Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Citizens' Assembly set to meet next month

Northern Ireland's Citizens' Assembly is set to meet next month for the first time.

Modelled on a similar system in the Republic of Ireland, it is hoped the Assembly will provide guidance on a number of key issues and introduce an element of deliberative democracy to the Northern Ireland political system.

The Citizens' Assembly works by bringing together 50 to 100 citizens who are broadly representative of the demographics of Northern Ireland, selected at random from the Electoral Register. 

The convening of the Assembly has been in the pipeline since funding was confirmed in January of this year.

Meeting over the course of two weekends, the participants are given the chance to get to grips with an issue and hear from experts before presenting their own conclusions.

Lynn Carvill, Citizens’ Assembly Advisory Group member said: "This is an incredibly exciting innovation for Northern Ireland. It will give ordinary people a real voice on the future of social care – an issue that impacts us all, but especially those already most vulnerable.

"It’s such a complex and emotive topic that the space for careful deliberation on the values we want our social care system to embody is badly needed."

In recent years, the citizens' assembly in the Republic, known as the Constitutional Convention, has made recommendations which acted as a precursor to referendums on changing the Irish Constitution's stance on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Funding for the event is provided by Building Change Trust, which gives backing to voluntary sector organisations in Northern Ireland, with £100,000 given to public-participation charity Involve to run the event.

The Citizens' Assembly will meet over two weekends at a hotel in Belfast on October 26-28 and November 16-18.

In a statement on the official Citizens' Assembly website, it says those taking part will be: "taken through a facilitated process of learning, dialogue and deliberation. The process will be designed to ensure participants receive the evidence they require to make informed recommendations."

Participants will discuss Northern Ireland's social care system, looking at the roles that the health service, communities and individuals play in it.

"The output from this process will be realistic recommendations to bring the social care system into the 21st century, and future-proof it to cope with the needs of the next generations within the context of limited resources," the statement reads.

Although it is hoped the Assembly will be a fresh democratic instrument, any recommendations it makes will be advisory and it has not legislative or statutory decision-making powers. 

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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