The citizens’ assembly that is to discuss a possible change to the legal ban on abortion will meet for the first time in Dublin Castle next month.
The 100 members of the assembly are to due meet on Saturday, October 15th and will begin deliberations on the future of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution which, as article 40.3.3, underpins Ireland’s strict abortion laws.
The assembly will be chaired by Supreme Court judge Mary Laffoy. Its other 99 members have been selected by pollsters Red C, and will be representative of the electorate in terms of gender, age and geography. Prospective members have not been asked their views on the issue of abortion.
Red C has also been asked to select 99 alternate or substitute members. Selection of the alternate members is ongoing, it is understood. It is also understood that the names of assembly members will be made public, though not their addresses, as was the case with the constitutional convention held by the last Government.
The proceedings of the assembly will be broadcast live on the internet.
The assembly will discuss the future of the constitutional ban on abortion in several sessions over the coming months, probably seeking submissions and input from interested groups and relevant experts. It will then make its conclusions in a report to the Oireachtas. The expectation in Government is that this report will be delivered in the first half of next year.
The report will first go to an Oireachtas committee which may hold hearings before making its recommendations to the Government. Any proposal to either repeal or replace article 40.3.3 would have to be passed by the Dáil, and ultimately put to the people in a referendum.
Pro-choice supporters say there is a gathering momentum for change in Ireland’s abortion laws following a large turnout at the March for Choice in Dublin at the weekend.
Anti-abortion campaigners have pointed to a large rally in June in support of the Eighth Amendment.
Abortion will be the first topic addressed by the assembly, but it will go on to hold discussions on fixed-term parliaments and also “super referendum days”, where voters are asked their view on several issues on the one day. The assembly will also be asked to consider non-referendum issues including climate change and Ireland’s ageing population. It may also decide to recommend issues to the Government for consideration.