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The Citizens’ Assembly met for the first time at Dublin Castle in October. PA Wire/PA Images
Devil in the Details

The Citizens' Assembly will start discussing abortion today. Here's what's on the agenda

The current regime will be laid out but not critiqued.

THE CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY will today get to down to the business of speaking about Ireland’s abortion regime but will not deal with comments on or criticisms of the current regime.

Instead, this second weekend of the 100 person assembly will hear factual presentations from legal and medical practitioners about abortion in Ireland.

For example, Janice Donlan of the Crisis Pregnancy Programme will give details of the prevalence of terminations amongst Irish women.

Professors John Higgins of Cork University Maternity Hospital and Anthony McCarthy of the National Maternity Hospital will speak about the implementation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and how it works in practice.

McCarthy is one of the medical professionals who assesses women in Ireland who are seeking legal abortions on the grounds of being suicidal.

Another speaker tomorrow, Professor Mark Sheehan of Oxford University, will provide the members with different ways of approaching ethical issues.

He will not being dealing with the ethical arguments surrounding the issue at hand.

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution is the first issue of five to be tackled by the assembly and today’s meeting follows an initial gathering in October in which the members were given a broad outline of the process.

Since that meeting, 11 of the members have been replaced by people from a substitute list of 99 others.

Most have been replaced due to personal commitments while one member said they left because their past advocacy work had not been revealed.

Members have agreed to a request that they will not discuss their work as part of the assembly on social media but no specific sanction has been put in place should this be broken.

The assembly’s proceedings will be streamed online but some of the roundtable discussions involving the members will be kept private.

Question and answer sessions between the members and speakers will however be public.

The Citizens' Assembly Supreme Court Judge Mary Laffoy who chairs the assembly. Philip Fitzpatrick Philip Fitzpatrick

The assembly’s secretariat has outlined that members will make clear during a public session the specific issues they wish to hear about in relation to the Eighth Amendment.

Interest groups who wish to present to the assembly have been asked to indicate their desire to do so during the ongoing submission process.

Their participation or otherwise will, however, be based on requests made by the members and under the discretion of Chairperson of the Assembly Justice Mary Laffoy.


The submissions process on the issue of the Eighth Amendment is ongoing until 16 December. So far, about 600 submissions have been made, most of which have come from individuals.

These have not yet been published online but this will be done in due course.

The assembly’s secretariat has made clear that editorial decisions will not be made on these submissions although some may not published if, for example, they are considered offensive.

Specific materials will be sent to the members as part of the process.

One member has requested the materials be sent to them by post while the remaining members will receive their materials electronically.

It’s envisaged that the issue of abortion will be discussed on four separate weekend-long meetings each month until March when a recommendation will be made to the Oireachtas.

This recommendation will be made following a vote or series of votes by the assembly members.

If a change is recommended, the government must decide if a referendum is required.

Whether or not a change is proposed, the assembly’s recommendation will be more precise than simply stating whether or not a referendum should be held.

This weekend’s meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly is being held in the Grand Hotel, Malahide.

Read: The Citizens’ Assembly meets for the first time today, here’s how it’s going to work >

Read: Ruth Coppinger: ‘The TDs who decided women’s destinies in 1983 abortion debate still hold office’ >

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