Citizens’ assemblies work: Reflections on the Irish Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss
December 12, 2022 by Citizens' Assembly Working Group
In Ireland, citizens’ assemblies are very much part of the political landscape. They are seen as legitimate by both politicians and the people. The result of the referendum that followed the Citizens’ Assembly on the Amendment of the Constitution (Abortion:2017), confirms how accurately a citizens’ assembly can reflect the position of the population as a whole.
And this latest citizens’ assembly doesn’t disappoint. The first citizens’ assembly anywhere addressing biodiversity, it too has called for an amendment to the Constitution. This time to prevent biodiversity loss. What’s more, members of the Assembly didn’t hold back from criticising the state as having “comprehensively failed in relation to biodiversity” (Citizens’ Assembly calls for referendum on biodiversity loss – The Irish Times).
Citizens’ assembly processes are continually evolving and the Irish Citizens’ Assembly shows examples of this.
- It amended the criteria of who could take part by removing the requirement to be a citizen. For the first time residents have an equal chance of being invited with the aim to ensure the assembly is as broadly representative as possible.
- They went on actual field trips to see on the ground how Irish ecosystems are under growing pressures due to human activities. This resulted in a real understanding of how biodiversity decline is interlinked with the climate crisis. It included a field trip to Dublin Port and a nature reserve. Assembly members were encouraged to visit farms as part of the Farming for Nature Network and other sites. (Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity loss to visit three examples of biodiversity management – The Journal)
- Assembly members are steering the direction of travel, recognising what is involved to do the job they have been asked to do. Subject to parliamentary approval, they will meet again in the new year to consider important areas that they didn’t have time to address. Interestingly, the chair of the assembly gave strong support for this proposal but pointed out how this opened assembly members up to outside influences, i.e lobbyists. She stressed that their decisions should be based on submissions, presentations and work conducted in the room together and “not be based on private conversations”.
Importantly, the Children and Young People’s Assembly presented their work and recommendations following the initiative of Scotland’s Citizens’ Assembly on Climate (Citizens’ assembly for young people makes 58 recommendations to tackle climate change – Irish Examiner).
Vitally, the Irish Citizens’ Assembly is not just a box ticking exercise; it comes with a clear undertaking of how these recommendations will be actioned. They will first go to the relevant committees, then for debate, and finally a Government response to each recommendation. An envisaged time frame will be given for the implementation of all or those recommendations accepted.
Here’s hoping the Irish government doesn’t disappoint!
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Contact the Citizens’ Assembly Working Group (CAWG): XR-CitizensAssembly@protonmail.com