I have an opinion editorial in yesterday’s online edition of the Irish Times on the next steps following the Citizens Assembly recommendations on abortion law reform in ireland. The full piece is available here, and here is a taste of its main argument:
It has already been reported that some politicians consider the committee’s purpose to be to water down the assembly’s proposals. This is a curious way, indeed, to think about the role of a committee established to consider the views of an assembly the Oireachtas itself established, and it is hard to see it as anything other than contemptuous of the process and the assembly members.
So what is the committee for?
Of course, it is not slavishly bound by the recommendations of the assembly, but surely its purpose is to take the broad recommendations and consider how they might be given practical effect.
The assembly clearly called for the State to fundamentally rethink its legal approach to abortion. Surely, the role of the committee, rather than frustrate that demand, is to inform the Oireachtas of the options for doing so.
Otherwise, one might reasonably ask whether the Citizens Assembly was simply a stalling tactic all along.
The Citizens Assembly has announced the 17 groups that have been invited to address the Assembly members at the March meeting. This follows relatively hot on the heels of its selection of 300 ‘random’ submissions to be brought to members’ attention, as well as the (continuing) uploading of the 13,000+ submissions that were sent to the Assembly either online or by post.
The selection of the sample and of groups to present to the Assembly has attracted some criticism, including from me. It would appear that the Assembly has taken an extremely limited approach to the concept of balance, understanding it as meaning one side ‘balancing out’ another, without regard to points of extremity, the fact that contestation is complex, the possibility of multiple points of disagreement along a scale and so on. In addition, the selection of the random sample of 300 submissions was undertaken without even the barest methodological rigour one would expect of, say, an undergraduate student by, for example, determining first the volume of submissions that were ‘template’ or repeat submissions, the broad proportions of submissions calling for repeal or retention, and then sampling from a ‘proper’ sample (with one of each template, for example) in a manner proportionate to the overall submission rates. Furthermore, in inviting people to address the Assembly it would appear that any lawyers who had ever written specifically on the issue of abortion law reform in Ireland were excluded (although not practising lawyers who had acted in abortion law cases), and the submissions of those lawyers (disclosure: this includes me) were not identified as being in any way potentially more useful or more likely to propose solutions than those of anyone else. This is in spite of the fact that at every meeting members of the Assembly have repeatedly asked for solution-oriented/forward-facing and comparative approaches to be presented to them. Continue reading The Submissions I would read if I were a member of the Citizens Assembly
Along with almost 8,000 other individuals and organisations, I made a written submission to the Citizens Assembly considering Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, which recognises a right to life of “the unborn” and the equal right to life of pregnant women. The Citizens Assembly was established to bring together 99 randomly selected ‘citizens’ under the chairmanship of Ms Justice Laffoy, to consider numerous potential changes to the Irish Constitution, the first of which is ‘the 8th Amendment’. The terms of reference of the Assembly are here. Continue reading Submission to the Citizens Assembly on Abortion Law Reform in Ireland