The Citizens’ Assembly
Sir, – Like thousands of other Irish women, I cried with joy when the results of the final ballot at the Citizens’ Assembly came in. For the first time, I felt heard in this country. For the first time, I felt that there was respect for my body and my life expressed in an important, national way. The Citizens’ Assembly voted by a very significant majority to recommend that the Eighth Amendment be removed, and that in its place a new amendment be inserted to essentially reverse it, giving full rights to the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion provision and ending forever the dangerous misapprehension that a pregnant person’s life is only as important as that of any embryo or foetus she might carry.
The assembly voted by significant majority to recommend that the resulting legislation allow women to choose abortion regardless of the reason – and trusting women to make the right decisions for their own bodies, lives and circumstances. The Government must now listen to the people and move to hold an immediate referendum along these lines. It must not hurt and endanger more real Irish women with needless and cruel delaying tactics. The Citizens’ Assembly has spoken unequivocally. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The recommendations of the recent Citizen’s Assembly are a timely reminder to us of how important the Eighth Amendment is – just look what a bunch of seemingly reasonable people can propose under certain circumstances! – Yours, etc,
Dr THERESE BOYLE,
Sir, – The proceedings of the Citizens’ Assembly seemed all very civilised until you realised what was actually going on – a small group of unelected people deciding to recommend the removal of the most basic of rights, the right to life, from a group of vulnerable humans. It cast a shameful cloud over the weekend. Let’s hope the electorate, if it gets a say, will have more compassion, and more respect for equality and inclusion. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – A journalist commentator on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show stated on Monday that, in her opinion, on looking at the composition of the assembled citizens, it appeared to her to be “representative”. As such, the legislature should respect its conclusions.
That begs the question as to why the conclusions of a particular group of 100 people should command respect simply because they were assembled to hear views, discuss them and pronounce upon them. The answer, it seems, is because they were “representative” of the people as a whole. This in turn appears to be based on the methodology by which this group was selected. It conformed to a set of criteria that reflected the incidence of those criteria in the population of voting age (such as age, gender, location, etc). The inherent problem with this approach lies in considering another question.
Suppose another 100 had been selected in conformity with those criteria, would we be confident that the results would be the same? That means thinking about what we mean by a “representative” sample.
The journalist in question seems to believe that the views expressed by the 100 can be considered to be in accordance with, and provide guidance as to, those of the population from which they were chosen.
For this to be the case, a necessary condition is that the selection basis was statistically representative. This is (or should be) the basis for all political polling. The stratified sample procedure underlying the selection was not a random selection, and its conclusions are per se statistically less reliable, even if by a small amount.
Worse, however, is that for the results to be reliable (that is, subject to a small expected error margin), the sample size has to be adequate. A sample of 100 from the voting age population, even if properly selected, has a very wide margin of error (about 10 per cent at a 95 per cent confidence level).
A further point is that the questions put should be determined independently of the identity of the persons in the sample being used. We know, however, that the actual questions to be considered were determined to a considerable degree by the members of the assembly. Not only does that mean that the opinions of the members will influence what is put to them, but it is close to a certainty that another selection of 100 people would have selected different questions to answer.
As if these problems were not enough, we now know that 12 members of the assembly absented themselves from voting. The sample, therefore was not 100, but 88, with an even higher expected error margin. And even this supposes that the missing 12 were statistically representative of the full 100, which seems unlikely. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – This is not how our democracy works or should work. We’re not meant to delegate tough decisions to unelected bodies.
In this regard, the other irony of the vote is that it found that the Dáil should legislate on this matter. Is that not what the Dáil is there for?
Anyway, all this doesn’t really matter as a report on the vote by the Citizens Assembly has to go to an Oireachtas committee made up of 20 members. Believe me, it will be stuck there for an eternity. More new politics? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Further to “Parties see abortion referendum as inevitable” (April 25th), Seanad Éireann has not nominated any of its members to the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment. A decision is expected to be announced on May 9th, 2017. – Yours, etc,
Senator VICTOR BOYHAN,