€600k cost of citizens’debate

The full cost of the citizens’ assembly to debate abortion laws, among other matters, will be €600,000 over the course of 12 months.

However, Senator Michael McDowell has labelled the process as pointless and an “exercise in political cowardice”.

The former justice minister and tánaiste claimed that the 100 people randomly selected to debate the tense constitutional issue would be “in no better position than 100 people chosen at a football match”.

The cost of running the assembly, from its planned launch in October to the year-end, will be €200,000.

The funding has already been set aside by the Department of the Taoiseach.

A further €400,000 will be needed to run the assembly throughout 2017, due to the costs of renting a hotel, paying for secretarial staff, and catering services, the Seanad heard yesterday.

Criticising the initiative, Mr McDowell said it was the job of TDs and senators to make the decision whether or not to put to a referendum the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects the life of the unborn.

The assembly will be “a ridiculous sham” brought on by a Government which is “in office, but not in power” Mr McDowell suggested.

The cost of hosting the citizens’ convention was also criticised by Independent Senator Ronan Mullen, who said it would be nothing more than “an expensive opinion poll”.

The politically contentious debate should be held in parliament and “nowhere else” before any referendum, according to Mr Mullen.

Senator Lynn Ruane criticised the lack of any timeframe for political action after the citizens’ convention makes its recommendations to the Dáil. “I don’t believe that action on the issue of the Eighth Amendment can wait on any longer,” said Ms Ruane, who argued that if the Government continues to stall, it could be up to 2018 before a referendum is held, if one is recommended by the assembly.

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