Citizens’ Assembly rejects claims of ‘pre-determined outcome’

Members putting ‘hearts and souls’ into deliberations on the Eighth Amendment

Assembly chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Laffoy:  had made it clear from the outset there would be “no pre-determined outcome to the assembly”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Assembly chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Laffoy: had made it clear from the outset there would be “no pre-determined outcome to the assembly”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Citizens’ Assembly has rejected claims by anti-abortion campaigners that their deliberations are leading towards a pre-ordinated outcome.

A spokeswoman for the assembly said the 100 citizens involved were putting their “hearts and souls” into their deliberations on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

Assembly chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Laffoy had made it clear from the outset there would be “no pre-determined outcome to the assembly”, the spokeswoman said.

She also rejected suggestions that the Government was using the assembly as a cover to scrap the Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn.

“The assembly was established by the Oireachtas, not the Government,” she pointed out.

She was commenting in the wake of criticism from the Pro Life Campaign whose spokeswoman Sinéad Slattery described the assembly as a “bigger farce than many predicted”.

In an opinion article in The Irish Times, Ms Slattery said: “It was flagged as an impartial look at the Eighth Amendment. The reality is turning out very different.”

Personal testimonies

The assembly will meet for the fourth weekend since October to hear legal advice on issues currently related to abortion.

Saturday afternoon will be devoted to hearing the personal testimonies of those affected by abortion and on Sunday the citizens will hear from 11 lobby groups – pro- and anti-abortion.

A fifth weekend is scheduled for April where assembly members will discuss its recommendations to the Government on the fate of the Eighth Amendment.

The spokeswoman rejected the Pro Life Campaign’s assertion that the process was being rushed.

“I can’t think of another public policy issue that has received that level of attention on a topic that is as delicate and complex as this,” she said.

She acknowledged they could have spent 10 weekends rather than five on it, but “there is a trade-off between having a workable agenda in the light of the commitment and the burden that is being placed on the individual citizens”.

Deadline for deliberating

She also noted that the Oireachtas had given the assembly a deadline for deliberating on not only the issue of abortion but four other issues before the end of the year.

She said the assembly secretariat had regularly canvassed the opinion of the citizens as to their feelings on the evidence that they were being presented with. “We are constantly striving for balance, we have received very positive feedback in that regard,” she stated.

The citizens had told the secretariat that they were “well-equipped” for the fifth weekend of deliberations on the subject, she added.

Six women will give their personal testimonies about their experiences in relation to abortion via pre-recorded audio interviews which have been edited to about seven and a half minutes in length.

The spokeswoman said the testimony of the six women was chosen because it was representative of the views of many women who had offered to share their experiences with members of the assembly.