The Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC) was established by the Irish government in 2012 to consider a number of potential constitutional reforms. One third of its membership consisted of members of the Irish parliament, and two thirds ordinary citizens selected at random from the Irish population.
This is one of the first conventions of its type, with citizens at its heart, working in tandem with senior politicians and following deliberative principles of respectful dialogue and a willingness to consider other views.
Meeting for just over a year, the Convention’s agenda covered a wide range of topics (including whether to change the electoral system, reform the parliament, or reduce the voting age) as well as important social and moral issues (including marriage equality, the role of women, and blasphemy). 38 separate recommendations for reform have been proposed, at least 18 of which would require constitutional referenda. Some have been considered by the Irish government, others have yet to be debated in the parliament. To date, the government has committed to three referenda in early 2015, and more are anticipated.
In the longer term how the ICC will be judged will in part be determined by the outcomes of the referenda. But it exceeded most people’s expectations in terms of how it operated, kept to schedule and dealt with the issues before it. Many of those who had been critical at the outset were converted by the end.
Professor David Farrell was the research director of the ICC. After two decades working at the University of Manchester, he returned to his native Dublin in 2009 to take up the position as Chair of Politics at University College Dublin. A specialist in party politics and electoral systems, Professor Farrell’s most recent book was the award-winning Political Parties and Democratic Linkage (co-authored with Russell Dalton and Ian McAllister and published by Oxford University Press in 2011). His current research focuses on deliberative approaches to political reform.