LAST weekend’s meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly came up with a number of common-sense suggestions for the way in which referenda should be conducted, although these won’t be in place for the upcoming referendum on the repeal of the 8th Amendment. That was the biggest ticket and most contentious issue the Citizens’ Assembly has considered so far, recommending that limited access to abortion be allowed in this country.
Like it or loathe it, the 99-member Citizens’ Assembly has done some useful work by deliberating on a number of issues in a dispassionate manner and without political interference. Its recommendations are, rightly, subject to consideration by our elected representatives who call the next move – in most cases a referendum and also deciding the wording for it.
For referenda, the Citizens’ Assembly has recommended a ban on anonymous donations to political parties and campaign groups, weekend voting and lowering the voting age to 16. Neither do they do want the government to spend public money solely on one side of an argument, but to make an equal amount of money available to both sides. They also voted for a system of spending limits in referendum campaigns for political parties, campaign groups and individuals.
Significantly also, Assembly members proposed a permanent electoral commission that would include the functions of the Referendum Commission. They also favour such a commission giving its view on factual or legal disputes that arise during referendum campaigns, which is vital for clarity so that voters will know exactly what they are being asked to say yes or no to.
The Citizens’ Assembly came up with some other interesting suggestions for boosting turnouts for referenda, including online voting and the ability to vote at any polling station in the State. A suggestion to make voting compulsory was rejected.