The Citizens' Assembly and the polling company Red C have defended the process by which members were selected for the assembly.
A recruiter employed by Red C has been suspended after an internal audit revealed he or she had recruited seven members by phone for the last session of the assembly, which was held in January.
Assembly chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said she had "full confidence in the recruitment process" despite the suspension of a Red C employee.
She also stated the incident which led to the suspension pertained to the session which discussed how referendums are held and had nothing to do with the assembly’s deliberations on abortion.
Members of the assembly are supposed to be recruited by cold-calling door-to-door and face-to-face interviews. They are also not supposed to know the person who recruited them in advance.
The Red C internal audit was carried out when final checks conducted by the assembly Secretariat among new members attending the meeting on January 13th and 14th found that one replacement member had been recruited by telephone rather than face-to-face.
The audit, which has been published on the assembly website, discovered seven of the 13 members who had been recruited for the January session were recruited by the same person, who has been suspended.
Red C said it carried out a thorough audit of its recruitment procedures from the beginning. The company stated that, aside from that incident, the recruitment process was “conducted to very high-quality standards and in line with the agreed methodology”.
Anti-abortion activists have claimed the incident has shown the assembly is an “unrepresentative sham”. They have maintained the liberal stance taken by the assembly in relation to abortion meant it was not representative of the public at large.
The Save the 8th campaign referenced the internal audit which stated that a sample size of 99 was not a statistically representative one and had a margin of error of 10 per cent, even if it perfectly reflected the population at large.
It is worth recalling that the assembly is not a polling exercise but rather an exercise in deliberative democracy
Save the 8th’s Niamh Uí Bhrian added: “What is more, it is now clear that the assembly itself knew itself to be an unrepresentative sham. The public are now being asked to vote based on the recommendations of an unrepresentative sham.”
Pro Life Campaign spokeswoman Cora Sherlock said there was now an issue of public confidence in the assembly, and she called for an independent audit as to how members were recruited for it. "This is not an assembly that did their work properly."
In the joint statement, the Citizens' Assembly and Red C said they were satisfied the members were chosen according to the Oireachtas resolution, which called for the sample to be "as representative as possible" with regard to age, gender, social class and region.
“This advice was followed in full by the assembly,” they added. “It is worth recalling that the assembly is not a polling exercise but rather an exercise in deliberative democracy.”
Red C’s internal audit also revealed it had repeatedly pressed the assembly secretariat to offer a financial incentive to potential members. Red C said it would “allow us to recruit a somewhat more representative sample of people, rather than those who are interested in political debate and discourse”.
Assembly chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said she was aware from the beginning of Red C’s advice, but maintained it “was the correct decision not to offer a financial incentive”.
Ms Justice Laffoy said the issue with membership recruitment only pertained to the January meeting “long after the assembly had completed its deliberations on the Eighth Amendment, and submitted its report to the Oireachtas”.
She concluded by stating she had “full confidence in the recruitment process, outside of this isolated incident. As such it has no impact on the work of the assembly on previous topics.”