The allotted Irish Citizens’ Assembly sends its recommendations to the Oireachtas

Wikipedia:

The Citizens’ Assembly (Irish: An Tionól Saoránach) is a citizens’ assembly established in Ireland in 2016 to consider several political questions: abortion, fixed term parliaments, referendums, population ageing, and climate change. It will produce reports to be considered by the Oireachtas (parliament).

[…]

On 26 July 2016, Mary Laffoy, a judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland, was chosen by the government as chairperson of the assembly.

The 99 other members are “citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected so as to be broadly representative of Irish society”. As with the 66 citizen members of the Constitutional Convention, these 99 plus 99 substitutes were selected by an opinion polling company; Red C won the tender and began selection at the start of September. The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2016 was passed to enable the electoral register to be used in this process. Media were asked not to photograph the citizen members before the inaugural Assembly meeting. By the 27 November 2016 meeting, 11 of the 99 had been replaced by substitutes.

The Irish Post:

THE Irish Citizen’s Assembly has voted overwhelmingly in favour of abortion in a landslide vote.

[…]

The citizens involved in the vote had attended five two-day meetings since November 2016 and had heard from a series of legal and medical professionals.

The vote on the legislative parameters on abortion was held at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Dublin, on April 23 with 88 eligible voters.

In a ballot on Saturday, April 22, a majority of 51 votes to 38 votes, recommended by ballot that the eighth amendment should be replaced with a constitutional provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and any rights of the woman.

The results of both the Saturday and Sunday ballots will be sent to the Oireachtas, who will then decide to hold a referendum on the abortion issue.

Predictably, the losing side was unhappy and found fault with the procedure:

Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign [said]: “The writing was on the wall for weeks after the Assembly invited groups like BPAS, Britain’s largest abortion provider, to address them but never, for example, extended a single invitation to groups representing parents who say they owe the life of their child to the Eighth Amendment.

“This one-sided approach is typical of how the Assembly conducted its business from the get-go. It cannot be left unchallenged.

“If the next phase of the process is to have any credibility, the first thing the new Oireachtas Committee charged with looking at the issue must do is examine how the Citizens’ Assembly was allowed to operate in such a one-sided and chaotic way.

“One only has to look at proceedings to see the muddled and confused farce the Assembly has become.”

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11 Responses

  1. >…the Assembly…never, for example, extended a single invitation to groups representing parents who say they owe the life of their child to the Eighth Amendment.

    Hard to believe such a basic opposing view was not given a hearing. If true, I wouldn’t say it was merely a matter of “Predictably, the losing side was unhappy…”
    Rather wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “Justifiably, the losing side was unhappy…”?

    Is this an example of what is so often criticized about sortitionally-selected groups? Namely that, once chosen, what matters most is the information the group is able (or allowed) to process?

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  2. > Hard to believe such a basic opposing view was not given a hearing.

    If you read the complaint carefully, you will note that the claim is quite narrow. It is not that the opposing side was not represented but that a particular type of group in the opposing side (“groups representing parents who say they owe the life of their child to the Eighth Amendment”) was not invited to speak.

    Needless to say, the opposing side was well represented. Also from Wikipedia:

    Based on feedback from members, the chairperson selected 17 submitting organisations to make presentations to the assembly. These were announced on 21 February: Amnesty International Ireland, Atheist Ireland, Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, Doctors for Choice, Doctors for Life Ireland, Every Life Counts, Family & Life, Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Irish Family Planning Association, Parents for Choice, Pro Life Campaign, General Synod of the Church of Ireland, Iona Institute, National Women’s Council of Ireland, Union of Students in Ireland, Women Hurt, Youth Defence.

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  3. David,

    >Is this an example of what is so often criticized about sortitionally-selected groups? Namely that, once chosen, what matters most is the information the group is able (or allowed) to process?

    You are right to draw our attention to what is the biggest problem of decision making by allotted bodies, i.e. how to ensure that isegoria is representative in respect to both arithmetic and proportional equality — i.e. quantitatively and qualitatively.

    Based on feedback from members, the chairperson selected . . .

    It is, frankly, risible to suggest that the information requested by the allotted group will automatically reflect a) the interests of the population that it represents (arithmetic equality) and b) be inclusive of the full range of available discourses (proportional equality). This is particularly problematic in a small (c. 99) group in which participation is not mandatory. Such groups will privilege activists at the expense of the silent majority.

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  4. PS The outrage of the lady from the Pro Life Campaign shows that the perceived legitimacy of policymaking by allotted minipublic is a very serious problem. It’s vital to ensure that a) every sensible discourse (i.e. those with a non-trivial following) is represented and b) that the sample is truly representative and that the decision outcome is invariant between different samples of the same population. a) is a serious difficulty (as David has pointed out) and b) cannot just be left to appeals to ancient authority and logical syllogism, it has to be demonstrated empirically. Just imagine what would have happened if the decision of the citizen assembly had binding power.

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  5. From the Irish Independent:

    Meanwhile, 11 of the 99 ordinary members of the assembly have stepped down from the body over the past month. In the majority of cases the decision was made for personal reasons. The body’s secretariat says they have been replaced by substitutes – drawn from a panel which was chosen along with the full members – in the lead-up to the assembly’s first meeting last month. Ranging in age from 20 to 70, members were randomly selected by a polling company to be broadly representative of the Irish electorate.

    Do we have any data as to the initial acceptance rate — i.e. those who took up the initial invitation from the polling company? Typical rates are very low, hence my claim that non-mandatory random selection privileges activists (both pro and con) over the silent majority. Any claim to be “broadly representative of the Irish electorate” would need to accurately reflect the fact that most electors would not wish to participate in such an event, and this population characteristic (which may well be of great political significance) could only be modelled by quasi-mandatory participation. Strongly recommend the “What Would Dahl Say?” chapter in the Deliberative Mini-Publics collection for an overview of the dangers of non-mandatory random selection (typical acceptance rates range from 4.1% to 12%, the only case of a high acceptance rate being the Zegou DP in China).

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  6. Keith,
    Two points…

    1. You wrote that the complaint of the anti-abortion person revealed that the
    >”perceived legitimacy of policymaking by allotted minipublic is a very serious problem.”
    I disagree. the criticism was NOT about the legitimacy of a representative microcosm making decisions, but about the details of the witness selection process. The opportunity to attack based on the illegitimacy of a non-elected group deciding was available, easy, and obvious, but instead the pro-life advocate chose to NOT attack there, but on a detail of process. I think that bodes well (as long as a much better process than having a chairperson choose witnesses is used).

    2. The “acceptance rate” isn’t exactly a meaningful figure, because a polling firm cobbled together a representative group through scientific sampling techniques rather than strict random lottery selection. The ISSUE of how representative the final sample was is still relevant, but there is no simple answer to your question.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Terry,

    1. Agreed, but the “detail of process” is a seriously difficult problem to resolve. In fact the choice of advocates was “based on feedback by members”, a procedure advocated by those proposing full-mandate sortition and it leads to perceptions of illegitimacy. This is the problem of representative isegoria in the proportional and arithmetic sense.

    2. My question was simply how many of those “scientifically sampled” refused the invitation to participate. Judging from other similar experiments it is likely to be the overwhelming majority. This population characteristic (voluntarism) is likely to be highly politically significant as it will lead to the overrepresentation of those with axes to grind at the expense of the silent majority. This is the problem of representative isonomia.

    Both of Dahl’s democratic criteria appear to have been contravened by this project.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sorry, according to Conal the correct statistical term is “population parameter”.

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  9. A group assembled by a polling company is a far cry from the standards we need for real sortition. Going by my personal experience of polling companies, they take a pretty lax attitude to representation as long as it’s good enough to convince the customer.

    It’s true as you say that it’s not the angle the disappointed pro-life side has chosen to criticize – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. It’s worrying if people get used to just thinking of groups assembled by polling companies as representative enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The very notion of using a private company for doing sensitive government business is insidious, but of course it is standard practice in the Western system.

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  11. Yoram,

    >The very notion of using a private company for doing sensitive government business is insidious

    That strikes me as an entirely partisan comment, and underlines my conclusion that the critique of “electoralism” and capitalism are two sides of the same coin.

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