Martina Devlin writes in the Irish Independent:
[T]he Constitution, which forms the basis of our self-government as a people, definitely needs an overhaul. Not some tinkering, but the level of in-depth, bonnet-to-boot servicing a vintage Rolls-Royce dating back to 1937 could expect.
The decision to use significant citizen input into this exercise is a welcome approach, and the Government deserves credit for reserving two-thirds of the 99 available seats for citizens.
It’s these 66 citizens who interest me, rather than the political figures assigned to the remaining 33 places. The success of the constitutional convention, and the level of popular support it attracts, hinges on who is chosen to join the Class of 66. Handpicked individuals who can be relied on to play follow-the-leader or slip into someone else’s version of the green jersey won’t fit the bill. We need transparency in the selection process.
Will they be chosen at random from the electoral register? Or will they be appointed by the Government specifically to speak on behalf of lobby groups?
I’d argue for random. These citizens have an important, even historic, function. In their ordinariness, their non-party political status, their non-special interest alignment, they have the capacity to represent the bulk of the Irish population. Even from such a low numerical base.
They should be chosen by lottery, as happened in Ancient Athens for the Council of 500. But I’d like them to correspond to something approaching a demographic mix, unlike the Greek city-state, which restricted itself to adult male citizens after military service was completed. Use that model and the convention will fall flat on its face at the representative hurdle.
I stress the random element because we need to avoid any suggestion of elitism. If we want citizens to connect with this ambitious move to reform the Constitution, any appearance of exclusiveness or jobs for the boys will prove counter-productive.
Since ancient times, selection by lottery has been considered the fairest method because elections favour the well-known, the wealthy and gifted speakers. Obviously convention participants need to be thoughtful, however, and willing to reflect on ways to progress our democracy. Perhaps those prepared to make such an investment in time and effort could be invited to put forward their names, with a view to inclusion in a random selection process.