Tuesday, April 23, 2019
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Ireland, pioneer of participatory democracy

It all started after the 2008 financial crisis that the Republic of Ireland was hit hard. The confidence of the Irish in their political institutions is shaken to the point that academics from political science departments at several Irish universities are worried about it. In 2009, they set up a working group to answer the debate on the need for change in the political system.

"We The Citizen"

One of the key players in this group, the political scientist David Farrell of University College Dublin, together with other academics, forms the We the Citizens movement, which organizes seven forums in different cities (1). They invite ordinary people to speak about the future of the country, in order to bring out ideas from the bottom up.

Abortion divides the Irish

In May and June 2011, We the Citizens formed an informal citizen assembly, called "pilot", made up of a representative sample of 100 people, randomly selected by the Ipsos MRBI polling institute. The aim is to show the political class and the country that the direct involvement of citizens " ordinary Could be beneficial to change the Constitution.

Then, the assembly meets in Dublin for a weekend to discuss three issues: the role of deputies, the identity of politicians, the arbitration between raising taxes or budget cuts in times of economic crisis.

A "citizen assembly" drawn by lot

The pilot assembly then writes a report arguing for the convening of a " citizen assembly To reform the political system. Composed of 66 citizens chosen by lot and 33 elected from different parties, it is set up in 2012, thanks to a change of majority. Its role is to revise eight articles of the Constitution.

After deliberation, the members of the convention address questions to the experts, put forward their proposals for opinions, discuss them, vote them and transmit their conclusions to the government and Parliament. Some are then subject to a referendum, mandatory in Ireland for any constitutional change. In 2014, three of them were, including the same-sex marriage approved by an overwhelming majority of 62%.

Ireland votes repeal of blasphemy

In 2016, a second assembly of citizens is constituted to question the prohibition of abortion, inscribed in the Constitution and ultra-sensitive subject in this country of catholic tradition. It is composed of 99 citizens chosen by lot and presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court.

Following the hearing of experts, interest groups and individual witnesses in 2017, members of the assembly vote by secret ballot and recommend 64% of abortion legislation. A report is given to the Parliament which constitutes a commission. It follows the same conclusions as the citizens' assembly.

No limit to their mandate

At the end of a fierce campaign opposing " Pro-Life »And« pro-choice The Irish vote for the right to abortion, in proportions almost identical to those of the citizens' assembly, with 66.4% of Yes And a historical participation of almost 65%. "The advantage of the citizens' assemblies is to allow to get out of the postures politicians, to evolve its own positions", Romain Slitine, professor at Sciences-Po, and member of Open Democracy (2).

In Ireland, the citizens' assemblies did not pronounce on economic stakes, yet at the origin of the crisis of 2008. " There must be no limit to the mandate of citizens' assemblies, continues Romain Slitine, who pleads for France to be inspired by Ireland, their success depends on the clarity of it. And we must go further so that they can seize economic issues, such as those of the distribution of income, ISF, etc. This means that political parties agree to lose some of their political power ".

How does a society come out of the crisis?

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