That Dáil Éireann:
approves the calling of two Citizens' Assemblies to consider the following matters and to make such recommendations as it sees fit and report to the Houses of the Oireachtas:
(1) a Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity Loss, with a total of 100 members including an independent Chairperson and 99 randomly-selected members of the public, to examine how the State can improve its response to the issue of biodiversity loss, and to bring forward proposals in that regard; the Assembly shall consider, inter alia:
— the international, European, national, regional and local dimensions to the biodiversity emergency;
— the threats presented by biodiversity loss and the opportunities to reverse this loss;
— the main drivers of biodiversity loss, their impacts and the opportunity of addressing these drivers;
— the perspectives of the general public, representative groups, advocacy groups, experts and policy makers on biodiversity loss, and its impact on Ireland;
— opportunities to develop greater policy coherence and strategic synergies between biodiversity policy and other policy priorities including, but not limited to, economic development, climate action, sustainable development, agriculture and tourism;
— opportunities to promote greater public understanding of, and support for, urgent action in response to the biodiversity emergency; and
— opportunities to improve the State's response to the challenge of biodiversity loss, how that response can best be resourced and implemented in a strategic and coordinated manner, and how progress can be measured;
(2) a Citizens' Assembly, to be known as the Dublin Citizens' Assembly, with a total of 80 members, including an independent Chairperson, 67 randomly-selected members of the public living in Dublin City and County, and 12 Councillors selected from across the four local authorities, to consider the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures best suited for Dublin, and to bring forward proposals in that regard; the Assembly shall consider, inter alia:
— the strengths and weaknesses of the current model of local government in Dublin;
— the potential benefits, risks, challenges and opportunities associated with a directly elected Mayor for Dublin;
— that functions could be transferred from central government to regional or local government in Dublin, and how this should be funded;
— the appropriate structure for local and regional government, councils and authorities, looking at models in other capital cities (e.g. a single elected Dublin authority with a mayor and no local councils, a two-tier structure like London or Paris with a mayor, regional assembly and local or borough councils, or a mayoral structure like Greater Manchester with a 'super' mayor sitting above the existing local authorities);
— the perspectives of the general public, representative groups, advocacy groups, the sitting Councillors of the four local authorities, the Dublin Teachtaí Dála and Members of the European Parliament, local authority senior officials and staff, experts and policy makers; and
notes that the Assemblies shall:
— commence and run in parallel;
— hold their inaugural meetings in April 2022;
— adopt work programmes designed to allow for the completion of consideration of the topics within an eight-month period;
— conclude their work and submit their reports ideally no later than nine months from their respective dates of commencement, and sooner if possible;
— have authority to determine a revised timeline for completion in the event of unexpected disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic or other extraordinary circumstances;
— implement continuous improvement and adopt innovative working methods informed by learnings from previous Citizens' Assemblies and international best practice, including in relation to the methodology for member recruitment, to the running of Assemblies subject to public health measures, and to developing internal capacity to ensure the quality of the deliberative process;
— preclude from membership of the Assemblies any individual who is either:
(i) a politician currently serving in either House of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament;
(ii) a lobbyist as provided for under the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015; or
(iii) a person unwilling to commit to adhering to public health measures as prescribed by Government and public health authorities from time to time;
— have separate Chairpersons appointed to each Assembly, each for a period of up to twelve months, with scope to extend the term should circumstances warrant, and that an honorarium should be paid to each Chairperson based on a per diem rate to be sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform;
— make payment of a nominal honorarium to Assembly members to recognise their civic commitment;
— have staff assigned to provide a Secretariat to the Assemblies and to support the Chairpersons;
— agree their own rules of procedure and work programmes to enable the effective conduct of their business in as economical and efficient a manner as possible;
— determine all issues by a majority of the votes of members present and voting, other than the Chairperson who will have a casting vote in the case of an equality of votes;
— operate in an open and transparent manner, including by live streaming public proceedings; and
— make a report and recommendation(s) to the Houses of the Oireachtas on the matters before them; on receipt, the Houses of the Oireachtas will refer each report for consideration to a relevant Committee of both Houses; the Committees will, in turn, bring their conclusions to the Houses for debate; furthermore, the Government will provide in the Houses of the Oireachtas a response to each recommendation of the Assemblies and, if accepting some or all of the recommendations, will indicate the timeframe it envisages for implementing those recommendations.
This is the fourth occasion in the past decade for a citizens' assembly to be established to consider matters of public importance. Citizens' assemblies have become an important part of the Irish democratic system, with previous forums making recommendations on a variety of matters, including marriage equality, the eighth amendment to the Constitution, climate change and, most recently, gender equality. The views expressed by citizens' assemblies have on a number of occasions led to constitutional change and significant enhancements to the State in which we live and the way in which we live our lives. Ireland is considered by many to be a world leader in deliberative democracy and we have had dozens of international visitors to our shores in the past ten years, keen to learn from our experience. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the many hundreds of everyday citizens, the academic community and the Members of the Oireachtas who played a central role in the previous assemblies, for their hard work and their commitment to public service. Maith sibh.
The Programme for Government: Our Shared Future committed to progress the establishment of a number of new citizens' assemblies, including assemblies on biodiversity loss, drug use, the future of education, and the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures best suited for Dublin. The most recent Citizens' Assembly, on gender equality, concluded its work and published its report in June 2021. In the intervening period, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that it has not been possible until now to arrange for the establishment and running of further assemblies. The easing of public health restrictions announced on 21 January means it is once again possible to plan for the running of citizens' assemblies with in-person meetings.
On Tuesday, 8 February, the Government agreed to the establishment of two citizens' assemblies - one dealing with biodiversity loss and the other with the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures best suited for Dublin. I am pleased to bring forward to this House the motion approving the establishment of the Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity Loss and a Dublin Citizens' Assembly. The issues to be considered by these assemblies are very important and the Government wants to move with some urgency to get both assemblies up and running. It is envisaged that the inaugural meeting of the assemblies will take place in April this year, with the assemblies concluding their work and submitting their reports ideally by the end of the year at latest, and earlier if possible. This will be the first time that two assemblies will run concurrently. Naturally, it gives rise to logistical challenges, but it can be also seen as an important opportunity to design an operational model that can allow for a greater number of citizens' assemblies to be run in the future.
The motion before the House proposes that the assemblies should, like their predecessors, report to the Houses of the Oireachtas, which, on receipt of the final reports from the assemblies, will refer those reports to the relevant Oireachtas committee for consideration. In addition, it is proposed that the Government will provide, in the Houses of the Oireachtas, a response to the recommendations of the assembly and an indication of the proposed course of action, where appropriate. The Dáil will debate the reports of each assembly and the response of the Government.
Eligibility for membership of the assemblies is wider than before and, for the first time, will go beyond those enrolled on the electoral register to include all residents in the State. This new initiative opens up membership to non-Irish people and those normally hard-to-reach groups who, for a variety of reasons, are not on the electoral register. All residents in this country are affected by the issues to be considered and I am certain these new representatives will add to the diversity of the group and make a valuable contribution to the proceedings.
The use of polling companies to recruit the assembly members on the three previous occasions in the past ten years posed significant logistical and administrative challenges and occasionally resulted in suboptimal outcomes. In line with best international practice, it is proposed that on this occasion recruitment will be done by a mailing campaign, with 20,000 randomly selected households invited to apply to participate in the biodiversity loss assembly and 14,000 in the Dublin assembly. From those who respond indicating a willingness to take part, members will be selected on the basis of gender, age, geography and several other factors to ensure they are broadly representative of wider society. We have learned much from the experience of previous Assemblies and I am confident the change in approach will enhance the quality of the random selection methodology.
The Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity Loss will include an independent chairperson and 99 members of the general public selected using a stratified random selection process based on the GeoDirectory of households across the country. The Dublin Citizens' Assembly will include an independent chairperson and 67 members of the general public selected using a stratified random selection process based on the GeoDirectory of households in Dublin city and county. It will also include a total of 12 councillors from across the four local authorities in Dublin, bringing the total membership of that assembly to 80. I am sure the inclusion of councillors will add to the quality of deliberation and that the other members will benefit greatly from their strategic and operational experience at all levels of local government.
Similar to the first Constitutional Convention, where the membership comprised one third politicians, every effort will be made to ensure equality of voice among the membership.
On foot of a recommendation from the chair of the most recent citizens' assembly, the terms of reference for each assembly have been designed so that they are sufficiently well-defined to provide a clear focus for the assembly, while at the same time not being so prescriptive as to inhibit the scope of the assemblies to define their work programmes as they deem appropriate.
The terms of reference for the citizens' assembly on biodiversity derive principally from the resolution passed by Dáil Éireann on 9 May 2019 which declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and called for the citizens' assembly to examine how the State can improve its response to the issue of biodiversity loss.
The terms of reference for the Dublin citizens' assembly deliver on a commitment in the programme for Government to establish a citizens' assembly to consider the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures best suited for Dublin.
The Government is keen to make progress on establishing all four of the citizens' assemblies committed to in the programme for Government. Therefore, it is envisaged that a citizens' assembly on drug use will follow these two assemblies, with the intention of running it concurrently with an assembly on the future of education.
Any decision on the establishment of the citizens' assemblies on drug use and on the future of education will, of course, be subject to a separate Government decision and resolutions of Dáil and Seanad Éireann at the appropriate time. The question of running those citizens' assemblies concurrently will be informed by the experience of jointly running the citizens' assemblies on biodiversity loss and a directly elected mayor for Dublin.
The decision to move ahead with two new assemblies and, for the first time, to run them concurrently, underscores the fact that citizens' assemblies are no longer merely an interesting experiment in deliberative democracy. Successive assemblies have amply demonstrated how the process enhances Ireland's democratic system. Engaging members of the general public in considering and proposing solutions to complex societal challenges not only makes a unique and valuable contribution to the deliberative processes for Government and the Oireachtas, but it also enhances the public sphere, where matters of public importance are debated, in turn raising public awareness and understanding of the matters under consideration.
Molaim an tairscint seo don Teach. I commend this Motion to the House.