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The Institutionalisation of Deliberative Democracy in Ireland. The Irish Citizens’ Assemblies from Informal Margins to Official Centre

Citizenship
Constitutions
Democracy
Political Participation
Representation
Political Sociology
Qualitative
Empirical
Dimitri Courant
Université de Lausanne
Dimitri Courant
Université de Lausanne

Abstract

Are democratic innovations about to meet great expectations? Even though they face critics and limitations, deliberative experimentations based on randomly selected minipublics seem to have reach an unprecedented scale. Is there a “constitutional turn” for deliberative democracy nowadays? Studying cases of mini-publics in Iceland, Belgium and Ireland, Reuchamps & Suiter (2016) gave us empirical evidence to answer by the affirmative. More recently, the latest chapter in Irish democratic innovations, namely the Citizens’ Assembly (2016-2018), allows us to investigate even further. This mini-public of 99 citizens has the task to make recommendation on five topics of (potential) constitutional nature: abortion, ageing, climate change, referendum and parliament. But it is necessary to locate this Citizens’ Assembly within the particularly dynamic context of Ireland, as this mini-public is the third of its kind. In 2011, the We the Citizens pilot assembly was a non-governmental democratic innovation aiming to gather ideas for Ireland’s future in a bottom-up dynamic, bearing similarities with the Belgian G1000. In 2012, the Constitutional Convention was the first state-level deliberative innovation mixing together politicians (33) and ordinary citizens (66). The work of the Convention to propose reforms to various articles of the Irish Constitution was ultimately successful on the issue of same-sex marriage, legalised by a referendum in May 2015 (Suiter, Farrell, and Harris 2016). What are the ruptures and continuities between those three Irish democratic innovations? What is the contrasted dynamic of this institutionalisation process; from informal margins to official centre? This contribution will try to answer some of the questions arising from the study of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly in this broader political context; drawing from a long term qualitative field research composed of ethnographic direct observations throughout the whole process (2015-2018) and semi-directive interviews with citizens members, facilitators, politicians and civil servants. Is the Irish case a step further revealing a “new wave” of democratic innovations, from ad hoc experimentation to regular devices? If we really are facing a “turn” towards a greater institutionalisation of mini-publics, does it leans towards a radicalisation of democracy or, on the contrary, towards an increased governmentality aiming to tame citizens’ critics?