Debates ‘inappropriate’ for Citizens’ Assembly members

Body charged with making recommendation on Eighth Amendment meets for first time

It would be "inappropriate" for the 99 members of the Citizens' Assembly, which met for the first time at the weekend, to take part in debates while the process is going on, its chair, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, has said. The assembly met

at Dublin Castle on Saturday, and will over the coming months consider a number of constitutional and policy issues, starting with the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, Article 40.3.3, which gives effect to the State’s ban on abortion.

In an interview yesterday, Ms Justice Laffoy was asked if those taking part in the assembly were expected to “put on ice” as citizens their normal liberties to partake in debate on social media or in local debates.

She said she believed it would be “inappropriate” for them to do so while the process was ongoing.


“That is my own personal view now. That’s not something I think we discussed in any great detail, but that’s my own personal view,” she told RTÉ.

Ms Justice Laffoy also said the body could impose a “simple sanction” on any interested party attempting to lobby members of the assembly, and that was to exclude that body from the proceedings.

The assembly members, selected by polling firm Red C to be representative of the general population, are expected to make a recommendation to the Oireachtas in relation to the the Eighth Amendment by the middle of next year.

Consider issues

They will then go on to consider issues such as such as how best to respond to the challenges of an ageing population, fixed-term parliaments, climate change and the manner in which referendums are held.

The names of the people participating in the assembly have been published on its website,

Addressing the assembly in St Patrick’s Hall, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the issues, including abortion, were “beyond politics, deeply complex, hugely challenging and profoundly ethical”.

Noting the Eighth Amendment had “divided our country in the past”, Mr Kenny said the first-ever such debate on the issue in a social media age could see public division deteriorate to “personal derision”.

We live in a time when a diverse opinion had become “something, or someone to be pitied, ridiculed, virtually hounded, or indeed destroyed”.

Harassment or criticism

In her opening address, Ms Justice Laffoy said it was critical to the success and integrity of the assembly that the members could freely and confidently make contributions and express their views without fear of harassment or criticism.

The assembly will begin its deliberations at its next meeting in Malahide in Dublin, on October 25th.

Further meetings will take place in November, January, February and March.

Ms Justice Laffoy said the abortion issue was a “very difficult” one.

“If I consider it is necessary to hold further sessions I will propose it to the assembly and we will consider that,” she said.

Cora Sherlock of the Pro-Life Campaign said it was very clear the assembly had been set up with a political aim, to pave the way for a referendum to remove "the last remaining constitutional protection for the unborn child".