During the week of St. Patrick’s Day, my website, BuildingANewReality.com, features Ireland’s pioneering use of citizens’ assemblies and sortition to do democracy differently—employing a randomly selected sample of Irish citizens to deliberate and propose a new law on abortion.
For decades, legislators were terrified by the political risk of dealing with Ireland’s uncompromising policy against abortion. Often criticized as a human rights violation by other countries, abortions were not allowed, even to save the life of a pregnant woman.
But in 2016, the Irish found a way to break the deadlock. 99 Irish citizens were randomly selected by the sortition process, to participate in a citizens’ assembly that studied and recommended a new policy during five weekends of deliberation spread over five months. This film interviews participants after their citizens’ assembly recommended a liberalized policy to the voters, who later confirmed the new law in a national referendum in 2018.
The Assembly was a breakthrough moment, not just for Ireland, but as an example for the rest of the world. Watch this remarkable 17-minute film, When Citizens Assemble (Film on YouTube), to hear directly from participants, in which a truck driver, a self-employed mother of three and other interviewees make us realize that, under the right circumstances, ordinary people can make as good or better decisions than elected politicians on even the most controversial issues. As participant John Long noted, “Unlike some of the debates that have taken place in referenda in the past in Ireland, the Citizens’ Assembly was very respectful and very congenial to everybody’s opinion.”