Grassroots can renew Irish politics, meeting told

 

GRASSROOTS POLITICAL action has the capacity to drive the renewal of Irish democracy, according to Fiach Mac Conghail, chairman of the “We The Citizens” public discussion group.

The non-politically aligned initiative is aimed at encouraging people to engage with the political system through a national citizens’ assembly.

Mr Mac Conghail was speaking at the inaugural discussion organised by the group, in Kilkenny, last night.

The organisation has received €630,000 in funding from Atlantic Philanthropies. The 150 people who attended were asked to imagine an Ireland designed for the public good, and discuss the changes they felt would be necessary to achieve that.

Among the attendees were Oscar-nominated animators Ross Stewart and Paul Young, Mayor of Kilkenny Martin Brett, Intel Ireland head of corporate affairs Brendan Cannon, Community Creations founder Ruairí McKiernan, filmmaker Kevin Hughes, and Malcolm Quigley, director of Voluntary Service Overseas Ireland.

The key themes that emerged from lively discussion included improved accountability, civic education and transparency. It was suggested that the role of the Public Accounts Committee be reassessed, and the of community-based decision making be incorporated into local politics.

According to Mr Mac Conghail, the group hopes to encourage more active political participation among the population. He said “We The Citizens” was “about increased political participation, it’s about more sophisticated political culture”.

He said bottom-up reform was vital in light of “changing norms of citizenship and declining deference to authority”.

Mr Mac Conghail, who is also director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, said the idea has received support from the Government.

The organisation’s academic director, Prof David Farrell from University College Dublin, said deliberative citizen groups have been engaged in political action in democracies around the world.

“We’re sort of borrowing a bit from several different approaches, but the sort of generic idea is deliberation, that a group of citizens can be brought together, can have an opportunity to be informed about an issue, to debate it, to discuss it with witnesses and to come to a considered view.”

Prof Farrell said Fine Gael and Labour had described undertaking a project similar to “We The Citizens” during their election campaigns earlier this year . . .What they’ve been talking about is a deliberative process involving citizens. Let’s keep the pressure on them, let’s make sure that they do that, and one good way of doing that is to show them that it works. So we want to provide a real evidence base that this is a good method.”

The group will hold events in Cork (May 18th), Galway (May 24th), Dublin (May 31st and June 1st), Letterkenny (June 7th), and Athlone (June 14th), before a national event on June 25th-26th.