Thursday, 11 July 2019
Citizens' Assemblies Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
I thank the Deputies for their contributions. Deputy O'Sullivan is right - this is essentially a technical Bill, but it is part of a larger framework of political and democratic engagement in the process of informing and reforming decision-making in a progressive and pluralistic society. We are leading the way in doing that, particularly in decisions we have made in recent years which came off the back of work of Constitutional Conventions or Citizens' Assemblies.
To come back to some of the questions that were asked, lessons are always learned as we go through these processes. The selection will be completely independent of me. There were some concerns about representation in previous Citizens' Assemblies. In response I note that these Citizens' Assemblies did fantastic work and came up with great decisions which, by and large, were implemented on the big issues. I am also aware that some people made arguments about the representative samples in these Constitutional Conventions and Citizens' Assemblies. I believe they made these points more to undermine the outcomes than from genuine concerns about the constitution of these assemblies. They will be completely independent of me.
The Citizens' Assembly on local government will concern reform across the four local authorities in Dublin, with a view also to looking at the possibility of a Dublin mayor. It is not just about a new office-holder. It will be much broader than that. Based on the work I have been doing with the local authorities in Dublin, and given some of the cross-boundary challenges we face, it is really needed. We have passed the motion for the first Citizens' Assembly. The second Citizens' Assembly will have the same chairperson and a different 99 members. The question around whether to call it a Constitutional Convention or not can stray into semantics. The important point is that while there will be input from the political side, politicians will not be members. They will be the decision-makers after the process has taken place. That has proven effective in the past. Everything that comes from the assemblies will be advisory. We make our own decisions as the elected representatives of the people. We have had great guidance from previous Citizens' Assemblies and Constitutional Conventions. They will remain a guide.
Regarding the timeline, we hope to have the first Citizens' Assembly up and running from the end of October and for it to run for six months. Being fair and allowing for a little bit of time between the two Citizens' Assemblies, I would envisage starting the assembly on Dublin local authorities a little later. It will also sit for six months. It will be guided by the same chairperson to facilitate the turnaround between the two assemblies.
I am almost certain that there will be referendums in 2020. I cannot say now what they will be and I cannot make any commitments in that regard. Several different issues are in the works. I will very shortly be writing to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government about another issue of concern to its members. This is a technical Bill. As I said earlier it is part of a larger framework.
Regarding the recent plebiscites on the issue of directly elected mayors, I note that a very detailed policy document was created. Some questions remained to be answered. Even if people had not read the document, the principle of devolving more decision-making functions to local authorities and investing them in an individual elected by the people was passed in Limerick and came very close in Cork and Waterford. Had we seen leadership from other political parties in those cities it might have passed.