Citizens’ Assembly was representative of population, says chair

Ten rural counties not represented among assembly who considered Eighth Amendment

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy who chaired the assembly who considered the Eighth Amendment on the issue of abortion. Photograph: Alan Betson

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy who chaired the assembly who considered the Eighth Amendment on the issue of abortion. Photograph: Alan Betson

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The 99 members of the public chosen to sit on the Citizens’ Assembly were representative of the general population, according to chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Laffoy.

Many anti-abortion campaigners had criticised the make-up of the assembly following its report last year, given that it was perceived to be more liberal than had been expected.

Ten rural counties were not represented among the 99 members of the assembly who considered the Eighth Amendment on the issue of abortion, leading to charges that the assembly had an urban bias.

The assembly’s conclusions on the future of the Eighth Amendment surprised politicians after nearly two-thirds of its members (64 per cent) voted to allow abortion without restrictions.

The 99 members had been appointed to reflect the breakdown in age, gender, social class and regional spread in the country, said Ms Justice Laffoy, who also said she was satisfied that they were a “representative sample”.

However, the conclusions reached by the members of the assembly were similar, but not as liberal as those reached by politicians at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

Two-thirds of the assembly supported a proposal to have no restrictions on the reasons for allowing abortion up to 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, 70 per cent of the committee’s members voted in support of the same proposal.

Less than a fifth of politicians favoured abortion with no restrictions on reason up to 22 weeks, compared with 44 per cent of the citizens, while politicians were heavily against allowing poverty as a qualifying ground.

Similarly, 78 per cent of the Assembly favoured abortion where there is a risk to the woman’s physical or mental health - a view largely shared by members of the Oireachtas committee.

Both the citizens and politicians were also strongly in favour of allowing for abortion where there is a fatal foetal abnormality with 89 per cent of the citizens and 85 per cent of the politicians in favour.

Ms Justice Laffoy was speaking at the recent Michael Littleton memorial lecture.

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