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Deliberative democracy, Irish style

Ireland’s Constitutional Convention of 2013

by David M. Farrell

16_Irish_CC_in_actionIn many countries over the years, governments have involved citizens in debates over constitutional reform, whether by giving them a voice in referendums or public initiatives or by allowing them to run for election as members of a convention. Iceland’s Constitutional Council of 2011 is a recent example. The Irish Constitutional Convention, which was established in late 2012 after much anticipation and held its first formal session on the weekend of January 26–27, 2013, also includes citizens as members.1 But it is how these citizens were selected to participate and how the process is being run that is of particular interest. The Convention is one of a small but growing number of cases in which governments have opted to follow deliberative principles, selecting citizens at random rather than by election and managing the discussions along deliberative lines.

Irish policymakers were influenced by the citizens’ assemblies on electoral reform in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia (2004) and Ontario (2007) and the Dutch citizens’ forum (BürgerForum) of 2006.2 In all these cases the citizen members were selected at random rather than running for election and deliberation was the modus operandi.

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About the Author

David M. Farrell
David M. Farrell is Professor of Politics at University College Dublin and research director of the Irish Constitutional Convention. All views expressed in this article are in his personal capacity. He would like to thank Fernando Mendez and Jonathan Wheatley for giving him access to the manuscript of their forthcoming volume Patterns of Constitutional Design: The Role of Citizens and Elites in Constitution Making.


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