Fine Gael last night moved to seek support for a citizens’ assembly which will examine numerous issues including the country’s aging population, fixed-term parliaments and the possibility of repealing the Eight Amendment.
But Ruth Coppinger of the AAA-PBP group described the establishment of a citizens’ assembly as a “charade that the Government felt they had to come up with”.
She acknowledged that a number of other issues would be discussed but added that “this is really about the Eighth Amendment let’s not kid ourselves”.
“The Government is struggling to find a formula to not deal with what has essentially become the key civil rights issue for this generation,” she told the Dáil.
She said her group would not be supporting the bill “because we recognise abortion is a reality for thousands of women in this country and they can’t wait any longer for this Chamber to deal with what they know has to be done.”
Labour’s Joan Burton said it was simply “kicking the can down the road” in relation to the Eighth Amendment and described it as a “cynical political exercise”.
Galway West Independent TD Catherine Connolly said the Government had got themselves into an “absolute mess”.
“I think the Constitution when it was amended in 1983 led to the more serious problems that repeated Dáils have refused to look at.
“It has led to the death of women; it has led to the chair of the UN Human Rights Committee condemning Ireland on more than one occasion. In the case of Amanda Mellet it said the treatment amounted to ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’.”
Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan said his party would be abstaining from voting on the motion.
“We recognise that the impact of the Eighth Amendment is a matter that does merit discussion and consideration, however, Fianna Fáil believe that because it is an issue of such sensitivity and complexity that it cannot adequately be dealt with by putting together 100 citizens in what’s referred to as a citizens assembly.
“We know that the breadth of opinion on the issue in Irish society and we believe that would simply be reflected in the citizens’ assembly.”
He said “Dáil Éireann could do that task easily” and instead called on a judge-led commission which would call on experts and interest groups.
Minister of State Damien English told the Dáil that the citizens’ assembly, which will be established by October, would be made up of 100 randomly selected members of the public which would broadly represent society.
He said citizens would have power over the process and no politicians would be members of the assembly.
He encouraged all those selected to accept a position: “Don’t be afraid of that phone call when it comes, I think it would be a very interesting experience.”
The motion was last night passed.