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Abortion Debate

Day one of Citizens' Assembly hears people with 'diverse views' are 'destroyed' on social media

The Taoiseach says that people with ‘diverse views’ can be ‘ridiculed’ online.

Updated 6.33pm 

90432308 Kenny sounded a warning that abortion has 'divided our country in the past'.

TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY used the first meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly to say that social media has meant that people with “diverse opinions” can be “hounded” or “destroyed”.

In his address in St. Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle, Kenny focused on the issue of abortion and said that the Eighth Amendment is something that “impacts on all of us in society and in every age group.”

Speaking to the 99 citizens chosen to look at a number of constitutional issues, the Taoiseach said that they have shown ‘courage’ by participating in the Assembly,

Kenny said that the issue of abortion has ‘divided our nation in the past’.

“Today, equally, technology can see such public division deteriorate to personal derision,” he said.

It can happen immediately and almost without limits. Yes, this is the first time we will debate the issue in the social media age. Social media puts the Assembly within the reach and indeed the sights of those with deeply held views on either side of any debate.

15/10/2016. Citizens Assembly . Pictured the inaug St. Patrick's Hall in Dublin Castle during today's Citizens' Assembly. Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

Kenny then went on to say that he believes that “diverse views” are no longer given the freedom they deserve in modern society.

“Regrettably, we live in a time when an opposing view is no longer seen simply as a diverse opinion on a topic worthy of attention and debate,” he said.

Rather we live in a time when a diverse opinion has become something, or someone to be pitied, ridiculed, virtually hounded, or indeed destroyed. I would remind all commentators that posts that seem might seem devastatingly witty to them might be simply devastating to the people they refer to, the people who receive them and indeed to their families.

Kenny also said that members are “putting their heads above the parapet” by participating and claimed that we are “in a world where anonymity seems to have so much power and so little responsibility.”

The Taoiseach also said that the issues the Citizens’ Assembly will address are “so clearly beyond party politics”.

The Eighth Amendment will be the first issue discussed by the Assembly when it meets again on 25 November and it is expected a recommendation will be delivered to the Oireachtas in the first half of next year.

As was the case with the Constitutional Convention, if a change is recommended then the government must decide if a referendum is required.

“And if the time arises for a vote, people can vote freely in accordance with their conscience,” Kenny said.

15/10/2016. Citizens Assembly . Pictured An Taoise Members of the Citizens' Assembly listen to An Taoiseach. Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

The 99 members of the Citizens’ Assembly were chosen by research company Red C which says they are representative of age, gender and region based on data from the 2011 census.

A list of the members of the Assembly with their names and home counties shows that it is made up of 52 women and 48 men.

Members of the Assembly are not prohibited from speaking to the media but journalists were among those who were excluded from the selection process.

Individuals who were involved with advocacy groups on any of the issues to be discussed were also prohibited from being part of the Assembly.

As well as hearing from the Taoiseach, Chairperson of the Assembly Justice Mary Laffoy also told members that they have been given a “rare privilege and a significant undertaking”.

Laffoy also made reference to the Taoiseach’s remarks on the influence of social media and warned that any advocacy group that attempted to influence a member of the Assembly directly would be excluded from participating.

“It is important that members can freely and confidently make contributions and express their views without fear of harassment or criticism,” she said.

A small number of pro-life activists staged an event outside Dublin Castle ahead of today’s meeting.

15/10/2016. Pro Life Campaign . Pictured members o Pro-life activists outside Dublin Castle this afternoon. Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /


The Assembly members also heard remarks by Maurice Manning of the National University of Ireland, Ita Mangan of the Citizens’ Information Board and Professor of Politics at UCD David Farrell.

Mangan said that it is the job of citizens to be active it shaping the institutions of a State and to “look at changes we should and can make”.

The Citizens' Assembly Chairperson of the Citizens' Assembly Mary Laffoy. PA / PA Wire PA / PA Wire / PA Wire

Farrell said that the Citizens’ Assembly was only the fourth such initiative of its kind worldwide, noting similar assemblies in Canada and the Netherlands.

He told members that while they may choose to recommend a constitutional change to the Oireachtas, “it needs not be so in all circumstances.”

After hearing the speeches this afternoon, the members moved into private session where they will discuss and decide on the work programme of the Assembly.

One of their tasks will be to select a steering group that will make decisions about the agenda and speakers they will hear from.

Advocacy groups and individuals can now make submissions on the issue of the Eighth Amendment of the constitution on the Citizens’ Assembly website.

The next weekend meeting of the Assembly on 25 November in the Grand Hotel in Malahide.

Read: New poll shows the vast majority of Irish people want Eighth Amendment repealed >

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