Vox Populi or abdication of responsibility?: The influence of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly on the public discourse regarding abortion, 2016-2019

Paul McNamara

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/CJPS.2019.016


The last four decades have witnessed enormous changes in the Republic of Ireland in terms of society, economy and politics. Formerly perceived as a poor, peripheral and “priest-ridden” country additionally plagued by political violence in Northern Ireland, over recent decades Irish voters have supported a series of “liberal causes”. Indeed, nowhere is this more apparent than Ireland’s laws concerning abortion, an issue which displayed a seismic shift not only among Irish voters but the political parties which claim to represent them, a shift clearly reflected in the public discourse. At the same time, it will be seen that the use of a Citizens’ Assembly as an exercise in “deliberative democracy” has allowed mainstream political parties to pass responsibility, at least partially, for changes to controversial laws to an extra-parliamentary body, thereby allowing them to claim that they were following the will of “the people” and finally settle one of the longest running conflicts in Irish political life. Thus, this article seeks to examine and describe both how effective the Irish Citizens’ Assembly was at achieving its stated goal and its influence on the nation’s public discourse concerning the issue of abortion.

Słowa kluczowe

Ireland; abortion, citizens’ assemblies; deliberative democracy

Pełny tekst:

PDF (English)


A & B v. Eastern Health Board and C. (1998). 1 I.R. 464.

Attorney General v. X103. (1992). 1 IR 1.

Bill Digest – Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. (2018). Oireachtas Library & Research Service.

Cahillane, L. (2018, 3 Dec). Delaying Tactics or Useful Deliberative Exercises? The Irish Citizens’ Assembly and the Convention on the Constitution. IACL-AIDC Blog. Retrieved from https://blog-iacl-aidc.org/debate-the-citizens-assembly-in-ireland/2018/12/3/delaying-tactics-or-useful-deliberative-exercises-the-irish-citizens-assembly-and-the-convention-on-the-constitution

Carolan, E. (2015). Ireland’s Constitutional Convention: Behind the hype about citizen-led constitutional change. International Journal of Constitutional Law, 13(3), 733-748.

Carolan, E. (2016). Article 40.3.3 and the law on abortion: A history. [A paper presented to the Citizens’ Assembly]. Retrieved from https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/Meetings/-Art-40-3-3-and-the-law-on-abortion-a-history-Eoin-Carolan.pdf

Chambers, S. (2009). Rhetoric and the Public Sphere: Has Deliberative Democracy Abandoned Mass Democracy? Political Theory, 37(3), 323-350.

Citizens’ Assembly fiasco is a political timebomb that’s waiting to explode [Editorial]. (2018, 3 Mar). The Kerryman.

Conneely, A. (2018, 26 May). Yes campaign investigating incident on its fundraising webpage. RTE News.

Contiades, X., & Fotiadou, A. (Eds.). (2017). Participatory Constitutional Change: The People as Amenders of the Constitution. London: Routledge.

Courant, D. (2018). The Curious Institutionalisation of Deliberative Democracy: The Irish Citizens’ Assemblies and the Future of Democratic Innovation. [A paper addressed to the European Consortium for Political Research General Conference, Hamburg. Used with the permission of the author].

Dáil descends into row over Citizens’ Assembly recruitment criticism. (2018, 22 February). The Journal.ie.

Daly, G. (2018, 9 May). Campaigners warn of “rigged referendum” after Google decision. The Irish Catholic.

Dougherty, M. B. (2018, 9 May). Silicon Valley Deletes the Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland: Are Google and Facebook rigging the referendum? National Review.

Enright, M., Conway, V., de Londras, F., Donnelly, M., Fletcher, R., McDonnell, N., McGuinness, S., Murray, C., Ring, S., & ui Chonnachtaigh, S. (2015). General Scheme of Access to Abortion Bill 2015. feminists@law 5(1). Retrieved from https://journals.kent.ac.uk/index.php/feministsatlaw/article/view/174

Fifth Progress Report on Abortion (Green Paper). (2000). All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, Government of Ireland. Stationery Office.

First Report and Recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly: The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/The-Eighth-Amendment-of-the-Constitution/Final-Report-on-the-Eighth-Amendment-of-the-Constitution/Final-Report-incl-Appendix-A-D.pdf

Gastil, J., & Wright E. O. (2019). Legislature by Lot: Transformative Designs for Deliberative Governance. London and New York: Verso.

Hancke, K. (2016, 7 Sep). A referendum is a real citizens’ assembly. Socialist Party. Retrieved from http://socialistparty.ie/2016/09/a-referendum-is-a-real-citizens-assembly/

Ireland’s abortion referendum result in five charts. (2018, 26 May). Irish Times.

Leahy, P. (2018, 11 Jan). Leo Varadkar’s shifting view on abortion will be key to campaign. Irish Times.

Leahy, P. (2018, 9 May). Facebook’s ban on ads reflects nerves of repeal supporters. Irish Times.

Leib, E. J., & Elmendorf, C. S. (2012). Why Party Democrats Need Popular Democracy and Popular Democrats Need Parties. California Law Review, 100(1), 69-113.

Leogue, J. (2017, 13 Dec). Amnesty hits out on foreign funding. Irish Examiner.

Leogue, J. (2018, 23 Feb). The Pro Life Campaign says revelations about recruitment practices for the Citizens’ Assembly put a “question mark” over whether the Government should hold a referendum on the constitutional ban on abortion. Irish Examiner.

Marlborough, A. (2016, 23 Aug). Irish constitutional debate on abortion and the resort to Citizens’ Assemblies. Constitutionnet. Retrieved from http://constitutionnet.org/news/irish-constitutional-debate-abortion-and-resort-citizens-assemblies

McDonagh, M. (2018, 5 May). The Catholic Church is absent in Ireland’s abortion referendum. The Spectator.

McGreevy, R. (2017, 30 Jun). Why did Citizens’ Assembly take liberal view on abortion? Irish Times.

McGreevy, R. (2018, 11 Jan). Citizens’ Assembly was representative of population, says chair. Irish Times.

McKay, S. (2019, 5 Jan). A Jury of Peers: How Ireland used a Citizens’ Assembly to solve some of its toughest problems. Foreign Policy Magazine.

Mullaly, U. (2018, 7 May). The poisonous online campaign to defeat the abortion referendum. Irish Times.

O’Brien, B. (2015, 9 May). Asking questions about funding for referendum campaign: “Groupthink has been exalted to an Irish sacrament”. Irish Times.

O’Connor, A. (2017, 24 Apr). Citizens’ Assembly shows the way on abortion. Irish Examiner.

O’Connor, W. (2016, 16 Oct). Kenny tells new Citizens’ Assembly of online risks. Irish Independent.

O’Doherty, I. (2016, 19 Oct). Citizens’ Assembly a cop-out in search for solution to bitter abortion debate. Irish Independent.

O’Hanlon, E. (2012, 18 Nov). This Government must be the one to face facts. Sunday Independent.

O’Sullivan, C., Schweppe, J., & Spain, E. (2013). Article 40.3.3 and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013: The Impetus for, and Process of, Legislative Change. Irish Journal of Legal Studies, 3(3), 1-17.

Pro Life Campaign says Citizens’ Assembly has pre-arranged outcome. (2016, 10 Sep). RTE News.

Protocol annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaties establishing the European Communities. (1992). Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty). Retrieved from https://europa.eu/european-union/sites/europaeu/files/docs/body/treaty_on_european_union_en.pdf

Report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. (2017). Houses of the Oireachtas. Retrieved from https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/The-Eighth-Amendment-of-the-Constitution/Joint-Oireachtas-Committee-on-the-Eighth-Amendment-of-the-Constitution-/Report-of-the-Joint-Committee-on-the-Eighth-Amendment-of-the-Constitution-.pdf

Sheahan, F. (2013, 16 Feb). Concern as Couple and Set of Neighbours are “Randomly Selected” for Constitutional Body. Irish Independent.

Stewart, R. (2019, 9 Jun). If we really want change, we have to face reality. The Guardian.

Uí Bhrian, N. (2017, 24 Nov). The changing positions of Varadkar and Harris on Abortion. Life Institute. Retrieved from https://thelifeinstitute.net/blog/2017/the-changing-positions-of-varadkar-and-harris-on-abortion

Unborn does not have inherent constitutional rights outside right to life. (2018, 7 Mar). RTE News.

We the Citizens Speak Up for Ireland: Participatory Democracy in Ireland – A Pilot. (2011). Original report available at https://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/We-the-Citizens-2011-FINAL.pdf

Whelan, N. (2012, 25 Feb). Constitutional Convention Will Have Its Remit Severely Pruned. Irish Times.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Partnerzy platformy czasopism