Citizens' Convention chairman says voices of ordinary citizens must be heard

Tuesday 06 November 2012 17.18
Convention is required to report on two possible Constitutional changes, including reducing the presidential term to five years
Convention is required to report on two possible Constitutional changes, including reducing the presidential term to five years

The voices of ordinary citizens can and must be heard at the new Citizens' Convention, its chairman has said.

Tom Arnold said part of his role was to ensure that the 66 citizens who have been selected to serve on the Convention will have their views taken into account.

The other 33 members of the Convention are politicians - four from the Northern Ireland Assembly and 29 from the Oireachtas.

The four members from Northern Ireland are Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin), Stuart Dickinson (Alliance), Stephen Agnew (Green), and an SDLP representative.

The full list of Oireachtas members has yet to be finalised.

The 66 citizen members - as well as 66 "shadows" to take their place if they cannot attend one of the meetings - have been selected by polling firm Behaviour and Attitudes, and reflect the gender, age, geographical and professional break-down of the population in general.

The first formal meeting of the Convention will be held on Saturday 1 December in Dublin Castle, while the first working meeting will be held in a Dublin hotel at the end of January.

A total of eight working weekends are envisaged, with members attending from the Friday evening to Sunday lunchtime.

Plenary sessions of the Convention will be webcast on its website, and will be available on a dedicated Youtube channel.

However, some sessions will be held in private, to allow members to discuss issues freely.

The Convention is required to report on its first two possible Constitutional changes - a reduction in the Presidential term to five years, and lowering the voting age to 17 - within two months of its January meeting.

It will also consider the Dáil electoral system, giving a right to vote in Presidential elections to citizens resident outside the State, same-sex marriage, amendment of the clause on the role of women in the home, increasing the participation of women in politics, removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution, and any other relevant amendments it wishes to recommend.

Mr Arnold said he had not yet agreed a salary for his role, but that it will involve him retiring earlier than planned with his current job with Concern.

The Convention budget for this year is €300,000, which will not all be spent, and at least twice that for next year.

A panel of at least 50 academic experts on various aspects of the Convention's work will be available to advise members on various topics.