Can Citizens’ Assemblies help us?

In all the dozens of podcast interviews broadcast by the Holywell Trust, one idea to strengthen our society has been put forward repeatedly – citizens’ assemblies. They are not universally popular – both DUP and Conservative Party politicians have expressed concerns they would undermine the link between elected representatives and their constituents, threatening politicians’ legitimacy. 

But the experience of Ireland’s citizens’ assemblies has inspired many. Assemblies provided routes to resolving politically challenging issues: same sex marriage, abortion, climate change and, now, gender inequality. And in Northern Ireland we seem bound into a future programme of the assemblies given that New Decade New Approach commits to at least one per year, possibly more, and incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots has promised that all of the NDNA will be implemented. 

The principle behind citizens’ assemblies is that a randomised selection of the population, representative of the population, comes together to consider in detail a policy challenge. Members will be informed by experts and then deliberate carefully, before reaching their conclusions. The format has not only produced intelligent and careful proposals, but has been trusted by the wider population to be fair and balanced. 

In the latest Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast, Jane Suiter of Dublin City University provides her expert view of how citizens’ assemblies work and their strengths and weaknesses. She is one of the people most closely involved in Ireland’s citizens’ assemblies. Jane is not only professor of communications at DCU and director of its Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society, but she is also senior research fellow with Ireland’s citizens’ assembly on gender equality, having been intimately involved with citizens’ assemblies and other forms of deliberative democracy for more than a decade. 

The interview can be heard here. 

The Holywell Trust Forward Together podcasts are funded by the Community Relations Council’s Media Grant Scheme.   


Disclaimer: This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralist society characterised by equity, respect for diversity, and recognition of interdependence. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council. 

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