Deliberating on a hot topic in the headlights: the Irish Citizens’ Assembly’s deliberations on abortion

Deliberating on a hot topic in the headlights: the Irish Citizens’ Assembly’s deliberations on abortion

Empirical research on deliberative democracy has moved through a series of stages, the most recent of which has entailed the study of real-world deliberative mini-publics. Among the various forms of mini-publics citizens’ assemblies are seen as ‘democratically superior’, and as having potentially great influence over the policy process. With influence comes public attention. This was the situation facing the Irish Citizens’ Assembly in late 2016-early 2017 when it deliberated on the topic of abortion – a controversial topic over which political and public opinion was strongly divided. The abortion issue was not only controversial, but also complex. The Citizens’ Assembly’s deliberations resulted in recommendations for a referendum to remove Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion and for legislation to dramatically liberalize abortion access in Ireland. The recommendations were accepted by government and the parliament, resulting in a successful referendum to remove the abortion ban in the summer of 2018. The fact that this Citizens’ Assembly was a government-funded initiative, that it was discussing a hot topic under the glare of publicity and that its recommendations were influential makes this an interesting case for study.  This paper makes use of a unique data set to consider three features of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly: the recruitment phase, the dynamics of opinion formation as a result of the deliberations, and the quality of the deliberative process.

About the presenter:

Professor Farrell was appointed to the Chair of Politics at University College Dublin in 2009, having returned to Ireland after two decades working at the University of Manchester (where he was Head of Social Sciences). He is currently Head of Politics and International Relations at UCD. In 2013 he was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. He has held visiting positions at the Australian National University, Harvard, Mannheim, and the University of California Irvine. A specialist in the study of representation, elections and parties, he has published 19 books and more than 100 articles and book chapters. His most recent books include: Political Parties and Democratic Linkage (Oxford University Press, 2011; paperback 2013), which was awarded the GESIS Klingemann Prize for the Best Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) Scholarship, A Conservative Revolution? Electoral Change in Twenty-First Century Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Post-Crisis Irish Voter: Voting Behaviour in the Irish 2016 General Election (Manchester University Press, 2018), and The Oxford Handbook of Irish Politics (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). His current work is focused on constitutional deliberation, and in that capacity he was the research director of the Irish Constitutional Convention (2012-14) and the research leader of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly (2016-18). In November 2018 he retired as (founding) co-editor of Party Politics. He is a member of the executive committee of the European Consortium for Political Research.

Date & time

Thu 07 Mar 2019, 12–2pm


LJ Hume Centre, Copland Building, ANU


David Farrell


Feodor Snagovsky


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