Citizens’ Assembly backs change of process to dissolve Dáil

The assembly met for the final time on Sunday, deliberating fixed-term parliaments

 Chairwoman of the Citzens’ Assembly, Justice Mary Laffoy  told members, who met for the final time on Sunday, that participation in the exercise of deliberative democracy was ‘unlike other forms of group engagement’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Chairwoman of the Citzens’ Assembly, Justice Mary Laffoy told members, who met for the final time on Sunday, that participation in the exercise of deliberative democracy was ‘unlike other forms of group engagement’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Citizens’ Assembly has voted by a tight majority to change the current constitutional position regarding the dissolution of Dáil Éireann.

The assembly, which met for the final time on Sunday, made a number of recommendations on the topic of “fixed-term parliaments”. They will now form the basis of a report that will be submitted to the Oireachtas.

The votes followed a weekend of deliberation which focussed on a number of strands related to the topic.

These included the current law and practice on the summoning and dissolution of Dáil Éireann, the history of the practice in Ireland, the experience and practice in other jurisdictions, and the pros and cons of fixed-term parliaments.

The headline question to members, as to whether the current constitutional position regarding the dissolution of Dáil Éireann should be changed, was carried by a single vote.

As to the length of a fixed parliamentary term, 59 per cent voted in favour of a four-year proposal as opposed to five years.

A hefty majority, some 95 per cent, backed a proposal that it ought to be possible for a fixed-term to be cut short subject to certain conditions.

Approval of Cabinet

Two thirds voted that if the current constitutional position as regards the dissolution of the Dáil is changed, and there is a fixed term which can be cut short subject to certain conditions, the approval of the Cabinet should be needed for an early general election.

Just over half voted that, in the same circumstances, the approval of a majority of the members of Dáil Éireann should be needed.

Seven out of ten voted that “a super-majority” of the members of the Dáil, such as two thirds, should be needed. Some 84 per cent said the approval of the president should be needed.

Assembly chair Mary Laffoy told members that participation in the exercise of deliberative democracy was “unlike other forms of group engagement”.

“The commitment which the members have shown to the Assembly’s key principles of openness, fairness, equality of voice, efficiency, respect, and collegiality have meant that all of the members’ work has been conducted with the utmost deference to others’ opinions,” she said.

This “allowed for frankness in discussing often very difficult material, all the while approaching the work programme with a level of diligence and commitment which is, I believe, quite unparalleled for a group of ordinary citizens”.

“This has been the central tenet of what this process has been designed to achieve - to put the citizen at the heart of decision-making and to ensure that the decisions that are made are the product of fair and reasonable discussion and debate among citizens,” she added.