At the weekend the members of the Citizens’ Assembly voted to support a referendum to replace rather than repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. But who are the Citizens’ Assembly?
Following a tender process operated by the Department of the Taoiseach last summer, the polling company Red C was chosen to select the 99 ordinary members of the Citizens’ Assembly.
The instructions were to find a group of people that were representative of the population in age, gender, class and urban/rural residence.
This means that there were 48 men and 51 women in the original 99. There were 10 people aged 18-24, 29 aged 25-39, 28 aged 40-54 and 32 aged over 55.
There were 45 from the better-off ABC1 group, and 48 from the less-well-off C2DE group. There were 6 farmers. There were 28 people from Dublin, 25 from the rest of Leinster, 27 from Munster and 19 from Connacht-Ulster.
Participants were selected through a process designed to be both representative and random. Potential participants were not asked their views on abortion or on any of the other topics that the assembly will debate.
However, those who had previously campaigned on abortion were excluded – if they were randomly approached – as were members of the Oireachtas, journalists and people working in market research.
During the recruitment and validation process prospective members of the assembly confirmed that they were entitled to vote at a referendum, and also that they would not act in an advocacy role for any interest or lobby group currently campaigning on any of the issues to be considered by the assembly.
Members of the assembly were not paid for their participation, though they do receive out-of-pocket expenses.
The pollsters also recruited 99 alternate members, and since the first meeting on October 15th last year, 24 of the original members have been replaced.
Seventeen individuals who were initially recruited and indicated a willingness to participate in the assembly did not attend any meeting, a spokeswoman said.
Six members who attended the first meeting of the assembly subsequently withdrew, while one member who attended the October and November meetings subsequently withdrew for personal reasons.
Since then, four more members have withdrawn. They have not been replaced as the process considering the Eighth Amendment was underway, but they will now be replaced for future issues.
Most of those who have withdrawn have done so for personal reasons including illness, illness of a family member, change in employment or circumstances, a spokeswoman said.