Citizens’ Assembly costs run over initial estimates

Attendees claimed more than €100 in expenses on average per assembly meeting

 The Citizens’ Assembly  cast their vote on the topic of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Citizens’ Assembly cast their vote on the topic of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The cost of holding the Citizens’ Assembly has run over the Department of the Taoiseach’s initial estimated cost of €600,000. Up to May this year, €651,144 had been spent running the assembly after five of the group’s nine meetings had taken place.

The group was set up to consider the future of the Eighth Amendment in Ireland’s Constitution, which prohibits abortion – as well as other issues such as how Ireland responds to its ageing population, climate change, and the manner in which referendums are held in Ireland.

The assembly of 99 randomly selected citizens and one chairwoman, retired Supreme Court judge Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, were to consider the topics in turn over nine weekends.

Members of the Citizens’ Assembly can claim travel and childcare expenses for attending the discussions, and in the first five weekends of the project, €74,460 was claimed in expenses.

On average, the expenses claims would work out at more than €100 per weekend for each attendee. Travel expenses are also provided for any speakers who are invited to address the assembly.

The Citizens’ Assembly meetings are held on a Saturday and Sunday at the Grand Hotel Malahide. The cost of overnight rooms for the participants in the north Dublin hotel, as well as providing catering, was €266,551 between last November and May this year. The assembly will continue to meet until November 2017.

The assembly has spent €113,615 up to May on webcasting and photography services; €33,118 on a website and advertising; and €31,143 on Irish translation and sign language services.

Polling company Red C Research was awarded a contract to select 99 representative citizens for the exercise, which, along with a note-taking service for the meetings, has cost €132,256 up to May.

The cost of running the assembly for five of its nine weekend meetings has been €651,144, and this does not include the office administration and salary costs for the Citizens’ Assembly secretariat staff.

In response to a parliamentary question submitted by Clare Daly TD to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the assembly’s cost, he said: “As the assembly has not completed its work, it is not possible at this stage to indicate the total cost of the operation.”

In September, the assembly will consider the issue of climate change, and at the final assembly debate in November the group will discuss how referendums are held in Ireland.