What is the Civic Forum and do we really need it?

What’s that you say? Civic Forum? What on earth is that? It’s easier to say what its not. It’s not a Seanad for Northern Ireland. It would be a bit embarrassing building an upper story to Stormont’s Parliamentary architecture just as Dublin is considering getting rid of theirs…

But the Assembly has voted to bring back what will be a standing consultative body after the SDLP lay down a motion to that effect. Newton Emerson is less than impressed.

His piece in yesterday’s Irish News begs two questions:

– What will actually do? (ie, will it be of any use?)

– Who’s going to be on it, and by what (undemocratic) means will they be appointed?

And then perhaps provokes a third, how will its membership change and evolve over time?

There’s not been a Civic Forum for nearly eleven years, though there has been a consultation by OFMdFM… As the RCN submission notes:

We are concerned that not a lot of reflection on the learning from the original Civic Forum has been provided by OFMDFM to inform this consultation process.

So what do you think?

  • williewombat

    yea lets have another layer of leeches who think they are more important than everyone else but aren`t Newton does get it right an odd time. Most overgoverned country numerically but in terms of action or real leadership there is none

  • jthree

    Not in a million years – if you’ve got such an important contribution to make get yourself elected.

  • sherdy

    What exactly were the outcomes of the original civic forum? Absolutely zero, zilch, sweet FA!
    We have more than enough expensive nonsense being talked at Stormont without paying for more of it.
    For an example, Ian Og and his mate Gregory are complaining about the Southern NAMA taking over control of the Ramada Hotel in Portrush, suggesting this move not be allowed. They had nothing to say over the past couple of years when NAMA were holding the debt.
    Talk about empty kettles making the most noise!

  • Gopher

    I take it the fines from McDevitt’s 20 mph speed limit are designed to finance this nonsense that and the rates arrears. Conal the West Wing is not real mate its just a TV show. Try and stop coming up with ideas for five minutes for gods sake

  • aquifer

    Is this a smokescreen for cutting the number of opposition MLAs to entrench two party rule?

  • observational

    Anything which has any chance of encouraging empathy, meeting of minds, acceptance – dare I say it tolerance – will be a good thing. Whilst we pour money into court cases defending poorly run infrastructure projects (a la A5 Project), we watch the simmering hatred spewed onto our screens night after night… with little or no moral guidance for sheeple. Cohesion? lol.

    We shouldn’t need one, lets face it. The problem is that the DUP / SFs of this world spend so much time indulging the hard line electorate in an effort to keep the numbers up (and their jobs and associated revenue), no one is interested in putting their head above the pulpit and actually leading people – the ones who blatantly need leadership. Anyone remember David Ervine?

    So anything which pushes engagement and a peaceful agenda, do it. End of. It just might provide a platform for lay-people to voice their utter disgust and disappointment at just how much the “Agreement” has failed to meet expectation. We just need to remember that without politicians who are willing to take difficult decisions and actually tell people the difference between right and wrong, its all doomed.

  • The Civic Forum was destroyed by politicians who didn’t want any other source of influence, let alone power. They ignored every recommendation that came of the the Civic Forum meetings, as they were not tribal enough for them. By continually belittling the Civic Forum, the intelligent and dedicated, but non-political members gave up.

    So any revival needs to define the relationships between such as body and the Assembly. A revising role, as in the House of Lords would be suitable. We need career politicians to be kept in check by people with connections to the ground – particularly through community, voluntary and business organisations. We need practical reality checks. Imagine if appointments to the board of NI Water had been scrutinised by qualified engineers, not just political advisers and money men: we would never have lost all water for weeks in Belfast.

    I suggest the model be the senate in Chile. As well as the members of the Senate, they have a virtual senate, though which citizens can participate in Senate debates – leading the senators to be more informed about the unintended consenquences of proposed decisions.

  • David Crookes

    Mick’s second question is a good one. What persons are going to constitute the forum, and by what undemocratic means will these persons be selected?

    I agree with jthree 100%. People who believe that they have an important contribution to make should get themselves elected.

    We don’t need a senate made up of unelected quangoons, and we should all stop using the word ‘civic’, which means NOTHING.

    The worst thing about the proposed forum is that you could write down its membership list with 80% accuracy before anyone was officially asked to join it.

    No, thanks.

  • D

    @David Crookes – “Civic” is a useful word in that it refers to the body of citizens in its entirety. It is inclusive, not just limited to those who are in the position to “get themselves elected”. Indeed, career politicians are in the business of winning elections; they are not necessarily specialists in any particular issue.

    Civic society is made of NON-governmental actors, who have their own group interests. Why is it such a “nonsense” to encourage citizenship participation?

    Depending on your dogmatic inclinations, you will have your own analysis of the Irish Constitutional Convention. However, it can be argued persuasively that this is a USEFUL process. It would empower citizens on issues affecting Northern Ireland. How can this be a negative thing in a consociational democracy?

    Public confidence in the process will reap benefits to civic society in Northern Ireland. And how to instil public confidence in the process? INVOLVE the public in the process.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, D. What I’m afraid of is yet another tired old parade of the great and the good and the formerly bad that will generate meaningless documents full of abstract nouns.

    We have hideous problems in NI. One of them is the RVH Car Parking Problem. Will that kind of problem be solved by adding an Alliance-Party-at-prayer icing-layer of sectarianism-condemners to the present Stormont cake?

    Once you start giving publicity to unelected persons, you create a forum for self-important exponents of smarmy liberalism who would lose their deposits if they ever stood for election.

    A lot of really good ‘community work’ is being done by honest votaries of the Trout Fisherman’s Three-Tenet Creed. (Keep yourself out of sight. Keep yourself out of sight. Keep yourself out of sight.)