‘First people’s assembly’ for a new constitution for Ireland — a lopsided outcome?
by Ben MARSHALL
4 August 2022
As part of the Feile programme of events, a Constitutional Conversations Group hosted a panel presentation and discussion on ‘the New Constitution’ of Ireland. Chaired by Claire Hackett, the panel consisted of Mark Bassett, John Gormley, Colin Harvey, Paddy Kelly, and Eilish Rooney. Held at St Mary’s University College, the panellists covered the topics: health, living standards, human rights, the European Union, and democratic participation. At the end of the 90-minute session, the audience participated in a mock vote, answering the question, “Do you want to be part of a New, United Ireland or remain in the United Kingdom?”
Presenters each spent about five minutes weighing the pros and cons of Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom. Each was given a topic to discuss, and for each one the presenter gave a greatly favourable view of the possibility of Northern Ireland unifying with the south.
However, some in the audience were quick to criticise not so much what was being discussed, but rather what wasn’t. For example, one questioner brought up the idea of identity being a major issue, if not the most important one, which was not mentioned at all in the initial presentation.
In addition, audience members asked questions about topics with less immediate constitutional impact, such as environmental sustainability and land development for multi-national companies.
Another member of the audience suggested that presenters had some dubious arguments, such as emotion plays a far greater role in voting patterns and that “97.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot”.
Yet in the end there was no doubt as to which voting option was going to be favoured, and by a wide margin — 86 were in favour of unification and 5 against.
Positively, the event was bolstered by extremely strong and positive audience participation. However, the lack of inclusive participation made the mock vote pointless. Since this was the “first people’s assembly on a new Ireland constitution”, one can hope that future discussions will be more constructive.