Citizens on Constitution body to have anonymity
The decision that the 66 citizen members of the constitutional convention can remain anonymous runs counter to practice in other jurisdictions, where similar citizens’ assemblies have been held.
Analysis of assemblies in other countries shows that all were open processes and the participants became public figures.
A spokesman for the convention told The Irish Times yesterday that some of the people who agreed to participate were concerned about being lobbied and “bombarded” by groups and individuals. They said they would take part only on condition that their identities not be revealed.
The 66 citizens, comprising 33 women and 33 men from across the country, and of various ages and social backgrounds, were selected by polling company Behaviour and Attitudes.
The spokesman said the feedback from the polling company was that some participants were reluctant to be in the public eye. However, he pointed out that the anonymity aspect might not be as big a hurdle as has been suggested. He said the procedures and process still had to be decided, and there was a strong likelihood that many, if not most, of the citizens would be prepared to be identified publicly.
The first meeting of the 100-strong assembly will take place on December 1st in Dublin Castle, with eight further full weekend sessions planned for 2013.
In addition to the citizen members, 33 parliamentarians from the North and South will partake. The convention will be chaired by Tom Arnold, the head of aid agency Concern.
The decision to allow the citizens to remain anonymous if they wish is unprecedented for an assembly of this nature. If the situation stands, one-third of the assembly (the politicians) will be “public” while the identity of the remaining two-thirds will be unknown.
A number of countries, including the Netherlands, Iceland and Canadian provinces, have held assemblies over the past two decades where citizens were selected on a random basis by polling companies to deliberate on electoral and constitutional reform.
The citizens were all named and the assemblies took place in public.
Prof Ken Carty of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver said the process and procedures were fully open in the citizens’ assembly in British Colombia in 2004, which had 160 participants.
In a reply to a query from The Irish Times, Prof Carty, who was academic adviser to the assembly, wrote: “The newspaper ran a special section on the opening weekend that had a photo of every member with a thumbnail description.
“They were taken from the members’ handbook that we had distributed to all members. Our staff also sent press releases with this sort of [material] to local papers and radio.”
Henk van der Kolk of the University of Twente was the academic director of the Dutch BurgerForum, which involved 142 citizens. He said the selection was public and so the names were known.