"Citizens' Assembly" an Exercise in Political Cowardice - McDowell


The “Citizens’ Assembly” which the government plans to consider amending or removing Article 40.3.3 (the pro-life 8th Amendment) of the Constitution is an exercise in “political cowardice” according to Senator Michael McDowell.


The former Attorney General and one-time Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, said in the Seanad that he was “totally opposed” to the establishment of a citizens’ assembly, describing it as “demeaning in a democracy of our kind, in which we have a Parliament established by the people whose function is to consider such topics”.


The senator’s comments came in response to a Seanad motion from Fine Gael’s Senator Jerry Buttimer (FG) calling for the Seanad to approve a citizens’ assembly to consider the 8th Amendment and other issues.


Senator McDowell was supported by independent Senator Ronán Mullen, who observed that elected Oireachtas members are tasked by their fellow citizens with examining and debating issues, difficult or otherwise.


Criticising attempts to offload political responsibilities, Senator Mullen said: “It is no wonder people have such little respect for politicians when we show such little respect for ourselves. We are the citizens’ assembly.”


Both senators raised concerns about the envisaged random selection method for the assembly’s members, with Mr Mullen noting that the last such citizens’ assembly – the ‘Convention on the Constitution’ that met between December 2012 and March 2014, included a couple. He described this as “mathematically surprising”.


Challenging the notion that the status of the unborn in Ireland’s Constitution should be considered in the first instance by the proposed assembly rather than by established parliamentary processes, Mr McDowell said it should be “dealt with in a sensible way and not through a ridiculous sham of an assembly convened on the basis of a polling company’s random sample of persons”.


Such an assembly, he said, would be “an exercise in political cowardice by a Government that is in office but not in power”.


Mr Buttimer’s motion was carried by 19 votes to 16.

The Irish Catholic. July 21.

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