The Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality will be established by the end of October this year although a chairperson has yet to be appointed to oversee its operations.
Earlier this month, the Dáil and Seanad passed legislation to allow the electoral register be used to select 99 voters to participate in the assembly which will have six months to complete its work.
The same chairperson will also oversee a subsequent assembly with a different group of 99 voters who will consider, for a further six months, the optimum form of local government for Dublin, particularly the issue of a directly-elected mayor and the powers they might have.
It will look at whether the capital should continue to have four local authorities and what powers should be transferred from central Government to Dublin. The assembly follows the plebiscites in Cork, Waterford and Limerick on whether to have a directly elected mayor. Only Limerick accepted the proposition.
A tender process will take place for a polling company which Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy said would be commissioned to select a representative random sample of the electorate from the electoral register. The random sample will take account of gender, age and regional spread across urban and rural areas.
The selection process will be overseen by the chairperson of the assembly who is expected to be appointed by the end of the summer and the assemblies will operate under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach.
The assembly on gender equality will ask members to consider the importance of early years parental care and co-responsibility for care, especially within the family.
A referendum on the deletion of Article 40.1.2 of the Constitution was postponed to allow a citizens’ assembly to consider its provision that “the State recognises that by her life in the home the mother gives to the State a support, without which the common good could not be achieved”.
Once its work is completed the chair will report back to the Government with specific proposals on gender equality.
Similar forums have been used to offer Government policy initiatives on abortion and on climate action.
When the decision was formally made by Cabinet last month to establish a citizens’ assembly Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it would mark the next step in making Ireland the first country in the world to have true gender equality.
“We still have some big gaps and women are still paid less than men, still find it harder to reach the top of their professions and there’s still a very unequal share of the burden of care among men and women,” he said.
Fianna Fáil local government spokesman Darragh O’Brien said the assemblies were good forums for teasing through important issues of the day in great detail and looking at potential pitfalls.
He stressed however that it was an advisory assembly. “The Dáil is the citizens’ assembly and that has primacy.”
But he welcomed a consultation process with citizens selected at random although he pointed to the concerns about regional spread in previous citizens’ assemblies when some counties were not represented.