Thursday, 11 July 2019
Citizens' Assemblies Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Citizens' Assemblies Bill 2019 is a technical measure designed to enable the register of electors to be used for selecting members of the citizens' assemblies which the Government, on 11 June 2019, agreed to establish. Two assemblies are being established. These are the citizens' assembly 2019 and the Dublin citizens' assembly. The role of the citizens' assembly 2019 will be to bring forward proposals to advance gender equality under a number of specific headings. The role of the Dublin citizens' assembly will be to consider the best model of local government for Dublin and, in particular, the issue of a directly elected mayor and his or her powers.
The Government decision requires the establishment of the assemblies to be approved by resolutions of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The motion approving the establishment of the citizens' assembly 2019 was approved by resolution of the Dáil last Tuesday and by the Seanad earlier today. The resolution sets out the detailed arrangements that will apply to the working of the assembly. A motion approving the establishment of the Dublin citizens' assembly will follow later. These assemblies will operate under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach and will comprise a chairperson to be appointed by the Government and 99 citizens selected randomly from local authorities' registers of electors. The same chairperson but a different selection of 99 persons from the Dublin local authorities' registers of electors will make up the Dublin citizens' assembly. The assemblies are to be run consecutively, commencing with the citizens' assembly on gender equality at the end of October 2019, and will take six months each to complete the work involved.
In order to proceed with the establishment of the assemblies as proposed, it is necessary to bring forward legislation to allow the register of electors to be used for the selection of assembly members. This is because section 13A(3) of the Electoral Act 1992 provides that the use of the register of electors is confined to electoral and other statutory purposes. Such a statutory purpose is provided, for example, in the Juries Act for the selection of members of juries. A similar approach was taken previously in 2012 when arrangements were being made for the membership of the then proposed Convention on the Constitution and again in 2016 for the then proposed Citizens' Assembly. As to the selection process itself, a polling company will be commissioned for this purpose. Its brief will be the selection of a representative sample of the Irish electorate in terms of gender, age and regional spread. The selection process will be overseen by the independent chairperson of the assembly.
I will now outline the detail of the Bill. Section 1 provides that information in the electoral register may be used for the purpose of selecting citizens of Ireland to participate in both assemblies. It provides in subsection (2) that section 13A(3) of the Electoral Act 1992, which confines the use of the electoral register, shall not apply in the establishment of these citizens' assemblies. In subsection (3), definitions are provided for "the Act of 1992", "the edited register" and "the register of electors". Section 2 contains standard provisions dealing with the Title and construction of the Bill.
The sole purpose of the Bill is to provide in statute for the use of the electoral register in the selection of members of the two citizens' assemblies. The Bill is required to facilitate the establishment of the assemblies, as proposed and agreed by the House. I commend it to the House.