Funding Announced for Citizens Assembly NI

22 January 2018

Building Change Trust (BCT), who support and invest in the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland, have announced funding for the first Citizens’ Assembly which will see the random selection of up to 100 people from across the region to debate and vote on issues that politicians have been unable to resolve.

Building Change Trust (BCT), who support and invest in the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland, have announced funding for the first Citizens’ Assembly which will see the random selection of up to 100 people from across the region to debate and vote on issues that politicians have been unable to resolve.
BCT have made the funding available as part of their objective to increase public participation in decision making, and the project will be delivered by Involve, an NGO which has run previous Citizens’ Assemblies in other parts of the UK. Involve will need to raise further funds to deliver the project, however they are confident this can be achieved.
The Republic of Ireland is the world leader on the issue, after it established a Citizens’ Assembly as part of its commitment to a Partnership Approach in Government. In 2016, the Dáil tasked the Citizens’ Assembly with considering and making recommendations on a number of issues including climate change, responding to an ageing population, referendums, fixed term parliaments as well as on the equal right to life on mother and unborn child.
A proposed Citizens’ Assembly in Northern Ireland would comprise of up to 100 citizens, randomly selected to capture the diversity of the population of Northern Ireland. Like a jury, members would be asked to deliberate on an issue or set of issues following the presentation of evidence from a range of experts who would ultimately vote to determine a position. The topic for the Citizens’ Assembly would be selected by an independent steering group based on agreed criteria, such as the likelihood of recommendations being acted upon, after consultation with political representatives and others.
Programme Leader, Paul Braithwaite said:
“Building Change Trust believes that by engaging with political parties and the voluntary/community sector, a Citizens’ Assembly could play a key role in dealing with many outstanding and unresolved matters which remain, 20 years after the establishment of our political institutions.
“There are clearly sensitive issues blocking a working democracy at Stormont. The Petition of Concern procedure, included in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement to protect minority rights, has morphed into a party-political veto. Equally, social issues play an increasing role in political debate, not to mention academic selection, Brexit and reform of our health service.
“With a fair political wind the NI Assembly may be back in business by then, but whether it is sitting or not, unresolved issues will remain; issues where a Citizens’ Assembly could play a vital, complementary role to that of elected representatives, putting the voice of the citizen at the heart of political decisions and clawing back credibility and trust in our institutions.”
Tim Hughes, Director at Involve said:
“We’re excited to have this opportunity to work with politicians and the voluntary/community sector to establish a Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland.
“Politicians around the world are facing some seemingly impossible political questions - and some are turning to the public to help solve them. Unburdened by the expectations of parties, constituents and legacy, the public can often cut through to the heart of an issue to find solutions and agreement where none was thought possible.
“At Involve we believe that people should be at the heart of decision making. A Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland will allow members of the public to learn about an issue, taking evidence from leading experts, and discuss their opinions with people from different perspectives, before reaching recommendations for politicians.
“We hope that the experience of this Citizens’ Assembly will encourage the Northern Ireland Assembly to establish a Citizens’ Assembly to support their decision making."