Citizens’ Assembly chair rejects criticism of 8th report

The Pro Life Campaign says revelations about recruitment practices for the Citizens’ Assembly put a “question mark” over whether the Government should hold a referendum on the constitutional ban on abortion.

Judge Mary Laffoy

An audit by Red C Research and Marketing, who are responsible for the recruitment of assembly members, found that one recruiter, without permission, recruited seven replacement members outside the agreed process for a meeting of the assembly held last month.

The seven were included in the 99 members of the Assembly who met in January to discuss the “Manner in which Referenda are held”.

Despite this, Red C said it is satisfied that this was “an isolated incident”.

“Red C remains confident that all members recruited prior to the meeting in mid-January 2018 were recruited to a very high standard, as requested by, and agreed with, the Citizens’ Assembly,” the company said in a statement.

The chairwoman of the Assembly, Judge Mary Laffoy, said she is disappointed at the position the Assembly has found itself in, but is satisfied that previous topics discussed by the group were not affected.

“I want to assure the public in the clearest possible terms, that I am satisfied that this is an isolated incident, and that it has no impact on the work of the Assembly on previous topics,” said Ms Justice Laffoy.

The Assembly reported its findings on the Eighth Amendment last June.

However the Pro-Life Campaign — which is opposed to repealing the Eighth Amendment which gives equal right to the life of the unborn and its mother — has called for an independent audit of the recruitment process.

Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign told RTÉ’s News at One: “It’s very obvious I think to everybody that the Government set up the Oireachtas committee to consider the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly. Now that serious questions have been raised over the Citizens’ Assembly, how it did its work, what I do think is the current situation, and we’ll have to see how this develops, but as of now I think there’s a question mark over the entire process of the Citizens’ Assembly, their recommendations, the Oireachtas committee and indeed the question of whether the Government can even go ahead now and hold a referendum.”

The Save The Eighth campaign said the Red C audit also raises questions as to how representative of the public the Assembly’s findings are, given it could have margins of error of up to 10%.

However, responding to criticism from Independent TD Mattie McGrath in the Dáil yesterday, Health Minister Simon Harris said: “It would be entirely disingenuous to try to conflate the issue of a referendum on the Eighth Amendment with the issue of the error on the part of Red C.”

“This error affected a discussion on climate change rather than abortion. I do not know why the deputy fears letting the people of Ireland have their say. That is all I want.”

Editorial: 12

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