I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to address the committee. I will keep my remarks short to allow time to engage with committee members. I have provided a more comprehensive briefing document for members of the committee which I hope will act as a useful reference point for today's session.
For over 65 years, debating and engaging people in Ireland on our relationship with Europe has been the overarching mission and core objective of European Movement Ireland. To that end, we are passionately determined to ensure the success of the Conference on the Future of Europe in its delivery and outcome. It is a crucial part of our work and outreach.
The conference has emerged as a priority of the present European Commission and importantly is supported by both the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. It is vital that the conference is meaningful and an effective forum for European citizens at its very core. It also needs to engage with the challenges and opportunities facing the European Union. Earlier this year, in our annual RED-C poll on Ireland and the EU, when asked if respondents felt their voice was heard in the EU, 48% disagreed and only 33% agreed, with a very high proportion, 19%, saying they did not know. The conference represents a chance to change this finding and it must do so.
The coronavirus pandemic understandably delayed the launch date, which was due on 9 May, Europe Day, earlier this year, coinciding as it would have then with the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration. The German Presidency of the Council of the EU has prioritised its getting off the ground during its term, which may be ambitious. However, consensus seems to have settled on the conference being a three-way undertaking, involving the Parliament, the Commission and the Council overseen by an independent chair. Unfortunately, political machinations on who should assume the chair position has delayed things further.
When I had the honour to present to this committee in October, I pointed out that the polling of EU citizens on how the EU was dealing with the Covid-19 crisis demonstrated that when the European Union acts in a co-ordinated and effective way, citizens respond positively as seen by greater levels of support. That is also the case regarding the conference, which needs to start urgently. Further delay has the potential to undermine the process before it has begun. In the poll on Ireland in the EU earlier in the year, just 20% of the respondents had heard of the conference. European Movement Ireland believes the conference should deal with the substantive issues facing the European Union and it should be citizen led. We are broadly supportive of the themes that have already been identified and outlined.
Current proposals envisage that as well as those policy issues, the conference should also address institutional matters. While we believe this is appropriate, institutional change or reform should be considered as a means to deliver results on the policy issues and not an end in itself. In an Irish context, institutional reform gives rise to the question of treaty change. We believe it would be counterproductive to set narrow terms of reference that preclude treaty change as an option. However, it is our preference that the deliberations focus on the real and substantive issues that affect the lives of people across the European Union, rather than a very academic debate on inter-institutional relations. That being said, treaty change may be necessary in the future for the EU to deliver on the substantive issues we have outlined. We should not shy away from that.
European Movement Ireland has a very proud record of engaging citizens and stakeholders on European issues. That informs our view that the position of citizens must be core and underpin the Conference on the Future of Europe. In 2017, we were delighted to work with the then Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to deliver an ongoing national citizens engagement programme on the future of Europe in Ireland and where we saw Ireland's place in the EU post-Brexit. How did we do that? It involved travelling the length and breadth of Ireland and engaging with people through concrete town hall debates on Ireland's place in Europe. Done outside the traditional political sphere, it provided platforms for debate on people's feelings and our relationship with Europe, but crucially was supported and engaged broadly at a cross-party consensus level. Thousands engaged digitally and more than 800 people attended the various physical events in the world before Covid. The programme was launched in the Science Gallery in late 2017.
From there, in 2018 we travelled to Galway, Cork, Letterkenny, Navan, Kilkenny and Cavan, culminating in a national citizens' dialogue in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on Europe Day. Who did we engage with? Different communities. There was an open call for people to come along: people who had lived abroad; EU citizens living in Ireland, a tribute and testimony to the multicultural and multiethnic communities we have in our country; young activists; trade unions; student groups; civil society organisations; senior citizens; elected representatives. All together they created a dynamic and evolving conversation about how we as a country and a people might develop Ireland's place within the EU.
Complementing this very tangible on-the-ground series of town hall dialogues was an active social media campaign. Over 400 million impressions were generated across social media channels, amplified through various stakeholder channels, and we featured the town hall debates through the means of local and regional media outlets, which was crucial. The events took place in a guided round-table format, with each table having a moderator. A rapporteur reported on all the citizens' dialogues, ensuring consistency, and we used Slido technology throughout the dialogues, which was really useful in terms of questions and answers and engaging the audience. That engagement shaped and turned Ireland's submission to the 2019 European Council Sibiu report, where the EU's strategic agenda for 2019 to 2024 was agreed and the subsequent Sibiu declaration published. Further information is in committee members' briefing packs.
Ireland's approach is seen as best practice from a participatory democracy perspective and we have been delighted to share our expertise and insights as to how we have engaged people in this country on the future of Europe and the ongoing debate and dialogue. The work of the Government, as well as the European Commission and the European Parliament in this country have been crucial to supporting and maintaining this ongoing conversation. It is crucial that the dialogue does not cease. Of course, Members of the Oireachtas and this committee in particular have a crucial role to play and we look forward to working with and supporting Members and this committee in anything that can be done to further increase awareness and engagement on the conference of the future of Europe in Ireland.
One of the important elements of this conference and its goals is that it increases the effectiveness and awareness of the EU from an Irish perspective and how important it is for us to input our views in that regard.
I trust that is a good overview and I look forward to engaging with the committee and answering any questions they may have