In yesterday’s Irish Times, Donncha O’Connell likens the much anticipated constitutional convention to a ‘quasi-therapeutic encounter between a selection of politicians and a glorified focus group of politicians’. His principal concerns are twofold:
- He bemoans the lack of a ‘radical approach’ to constitutional reform that, he says, is ‘far from identical to what was promised’;
- He is withering in his characterization of how he envisages the convention working: ‘parties chatting among themselves before engaging with a selection of citizenry in an orchestrated rumination on aspects of the Constitution that may well, for reasons other than pressures of time, be little more than an exercise in shallow intensity’.
He is being unfair on both counts. In the first instance, while we might all have our wish lists (e.g. various of mine can be read at http://politicalreform.ie), it is the duly-elected government that is running the show, based on what they promised in their Programme for Government. That could hardly have been clearer in setting out what the convention will consider: the electoral system; votes at 17; the Presidential term, rights for citizens to vote in Presidential elections overseas; same-sex marriage; the clause on the role of women; blasphemy. It is hard to see anything more ‘identical’ than this!
Secondly, Dr O’Connell’s dismissal of the convention’s proposed modus operandi suggests a distaste for deliberative approaches, in which a random selection of ordinary citizens are given an opportunity to have a real impact in discussions about the future of our political system. It is a pity that he doesn’t appear to have taken the opportunity (such as www.wethecitizens.ie) to inform himself about the merits of this approach before passing summary judgement.
Personally, I’m prepared to reserve judgement until I see the convention up and running.