Conference by Professor David Farrell (University College Dublin)
January 13, 2017
McGill University in Montreal
The scholarly literature on deliberation has recently entered its ‘third phase’ in which many of the empirical techniques honed over the last few decades are being applied on a grander scale – as deliberation becomes ‘scaled up’ or mainstreamed. In a recent contribution on the ‘systemic approach’ to deliberation Jane Mansbridge and her colleagues refer to the potential for a coupling of a ‘group of institutions and practices’, which if done well should allow each part to ‘consider reasons and proposals generated in other parts’. This has the potential to enrich democracy, to provide space for breaking through institutional or ideological logjams – of forming, in Mark Warren’s words, ‘part of the ecology of democratic institutions’.
The Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC) was one such form of ‘designed coupling’, its membership comprising a mix of professional politicians (from the Irish parliament) and rank-and-file citizens selected at random from the greater population. In at least one important respect it was a success: its recommendation for a referendum on marriage equality was accepted by a government led by an instinctively conservative prime minister, leading to a strong Yes vote in the subsequent referendum in 2015.
But despite that successful outcome a question needs to be asked about the risk that in this case the coupling may have been too ‘tight’, in which one element (in this instance the professional politicians) in some way may have contaminated the other (ordinary citizens). This paper reports on the analysis of survey data gathered during and after the operation of the ICC in which we assess the extent to which the inclusion of politicians may have impacted disproportionality on some of the outcomes of the Convention.