Chuck Feeney charity funds citizens' assembly idea
ATLANTIC PHILANTHROPIES has given €630,000 to a new initiative aimed at encouraging people to engage with the political system through a national citizens’ assembly.
The chairman of We The Citizens, Fiach Mac Conghail, who is also director of the Abbey Theatre, said most of the money would be used to pay for opinion polls and public events in different locations around the State.
Political scientists connected to the project approached Atlantic Philanthropies a year ago requesting funding to organise a citizens’ assembly focused on political reform, Mr Mac Conghail said at the launch of the initiative in Dublin yesterday.
“We also know that Atlantic Philanthropies themselves were looking at supporting a national discourse project . . . the total funding is about €630,000,” he said. Atlantic Philanthropies is the charitable organisation of Irish-American businessman Chuck Feeney.
Mr Mac Conghail said that the “elemental part” of the budget would be spent on polling, on a 150-person citizens’ assembly to be held in Dublin in late June and on information-gathering public events before then in Blanchardstown and Tallaght in Dublin, as well as Cork, Galway, Kilkenny, Letterkenny and Athlone.
The group’s academic director Prof David Farrell, who holds the chair of politics at UCD and is a son of the broadcaster Prof Brian Farrell, is joined by Dr Elaine Byrne, an adjutant lecturer at the department of political science at Trinity College Dublin. Dr Jane Suiter, a lecturer at UCC’s department of government and Dr Eoin O’Malley, lecturer in political science at the school of law and government at Dublin City University, are also involved.
Prof Farrell said that one of the State’s leading opinion polling companies would be commissioned to carry out a survey of more than 1,000 Irish citizens to seek their views on political reform.
The polling company would be asked to select 150 people from their survey sample representing a cross-section of society, who will then be invited to become members of the citizens’ assembly, he said. “The objective is to give a group of citizens an opportunity to come to informed decisions about issues relating to how government operates.”
The assembly members would discuss the key themes that emerged from regional events, which are open to anyone who registers on the group’s website or by phone.
The group’s executive director is former broadcaster Caroline Erskine, who was communications director with the National Forum on Europe and Ireland for Europe, which campaigned for a Yes vote in the second Lisbon Treaty referendum.
Board members include Prof Brigid Laffan, principal of the college of human sciences at UCD; Prof Tom Collins, president of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and Brendan Cannon, head of corporate affairs with Intel Ireland Campus.
Ned Costello, chief executive of the Irish Universities Association; Niamh Gallagher, co-founder of Women for Europe, and Owen Keenan, founder and managing director of Middlequarter Consultancy, are on the board.
Sylda Langford, Citizens Information Board chairwoman, Fidele Mutwarasibo of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Ruairí McKiernan, founder of the SpunOut.ie youth website, and Mr Mac Conghail are also board members.