Forum calls on citizens to help reinvigorate nation

A NATIONAL gathering of concerned citizens is to be held in the summer with a view to re-invigorating Ireland’s democratic institutions and restoring trust in public life.

We the Citizens, an independent national forum aimed at showing the benefits of public engagement with national decision making, was launched yesterday in Dublin.

Its chairman, Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre, told the launch that a national citizens’ assembly would be held in June to consider proposals on making the political institutions of the state better suited to serving citizens. The agenda of the assembly will be decided by seven citizen-led events around the country and by a nationwide poll.

“All the political parties in the Oireachtas have made significant promises to lead and implement political reform and what We the Citizens will promise to do is two-fold.

“We will maintain the pressure on our politicians to change the way we are governed in this Republic. We will also show that a bottom-up approach can support a better and more productive citizen engagement in creating public policy,” said Mr Mac Conghail.

“Before the Dáil breaks for the summer, we will demonstrate to the Government and all the political parties that this is a proven way to reconnect Irish citizens to politics to the benefit of the country as a whole.”

A number of citizens’ events leading up to the national assembly is planned for May and June in Kilkenny, Cork, Galway, Athlone, Letterkenny and Dublin.

We the Citizens executive director, Caroline Erskine, described the initiative as timely. “The depth of this crisis has brought with it a great opportunity to start afresh. There is a mood for public mobilisation.

“People are ready to get involved in constructive, citizen-led action. We the Citizens plan to show some practical and productive ways of doing that.”

Professor of Politics in UCD, David Farrell, who will lead an academic study of the process, said that citizens’ assemblies have been used successfully in other countries. “They are a new and innovative way of allowing citizens to be actively involved in taking important decisions that affect our daily lives.

“Citizens’ assemblies are a tried and tested method of giving citizens the opportunity to engage directly in important decisions about their own political system.

“I have some personal experience of this, having participated as an expert witness to a number of them (in British Columbia, Ontario and the Netherlands), and I’m delighted that we have the opportunity to demonstrate how this method can also work here,” added Prof Farrell.

Funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, an organisation founded by Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney, We the Citizens is being organised in association with the Irish Universities Association, the representative body for the seven Irish universities.

Its chief executive, Ned Costello, said that the association was glad to give its endorsement and support for the initiative. “This is an important contribution to national debate on the future of our political system and processes. The joint involvement of academia and society in that dialogue underlines the value which the universities place on community engagement.”

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