In Ireland, two new citizens' assemblies began their work on 9 April 2022. At the state level, a citizens' assembly will deal with the issue of biodiversity loss. In the capital Dublin the focus is on the direct election of mayors and a reform of local government. The inaugural meeting was largely held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin addressed the members over video message at the start of the meeting. “These two new Citizens’ Assemblies will provide a means by which everyday people, who normally don’t get the opportunity to be involved in policy development or legislative proposals, to make a very real and direct contribution to the State’s response to both Biodiversity Loss and the structure of Local Government in Dublin,” Martin said.
Citizens' Assembly will recommend action
The biodiversity assembly considers the threats of biodiversity loss and how to reverse it. It also considers the main causes and impacts of biodiversity loss and how to improve the government’s response and measure progress.
The assembly will furthermore look at ways to develop greater policy coherence and synergie between biodiversity policy and other and other policy priorities including, but not limited to, economic development, climate action, sustainable development, agriculture and tourism.
"One of the most important issues of our time"
Biodiversity loss means a growing number of animals and plants are becoming extinct at an accelerating pace, and it’s caused by factors like overexploitation, habitat loss, and the climate crisis.
"Biodiversity loss, its causes, and what we can do to address it is one of the most important and defining issues of our time", said Dr Ní Shúilleabháin, Chair of the Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity. "I look forward to starting work with the members of the Assembly and identifying what practical solutions we can find to this challenge."
Citizens' Assembly adopted in 2019
The Irish government declared a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2019 and passed an amendment calling for a citizens’ assembly, but it has taken nearly three years for the assembly to be convened.
The Dublin citizens’ assembly considers the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures that are best suited for Dublin. Its members examine the strengths and weaknesses of local governance in Ireland and the potential benefits and risks for Dublin of a directly-elected mayor.
37,000 people invited
37,000 invitations to participate in the assemblies were issued to people in randomly selected households. There were 3,700 responses, from which the members were chosen randomly. While the Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity loss has 99 participants, the Citizens' Assembly in Dublin has 79 members. It is the first time that two citizens’ assemblies are running concurrently. Recommendations from the two assemblies are due by the end of 2022.
On the announcement of the assemblies, a government spokesperson said it “presents a significant opportunity to design and implement an operational model that can allow for a greater number of citizens’ assemblies to be run”.
Citizens' assemblies since 2016
Since 2016, citizens' assemblies in Ireland have addressed abortion, challenges and opportunities of an aging population, fixed term parliaments, the manner in which referenda are held, climate change and gender equality. Previously, from 2013 to 2014, there was a constitutional convention made up of two-thirds randomly selected citizens to discuss same-sex marriage, blasphemy, the right to vote, a minimum age for presidential candidates, economic, social and cultural rights and the role of women in politics.
Recommendations of the citizens' assemblies on abortion, same-sex marriage and the deletion of the paragraph on blasphemy from the constitution found a majority in compulsory constitutional referendums. On the other hand, reducing the age threshold for candidacy for presidential elections from 35 to 21 years, as proposed by the Constitutional Convention, was rejected by the voters.