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The citizens' assembly on gender equality will meet for the first time this month

Ninety nine people will take part in the citizens’ assembly.

Image: Shutterstock/goodluz

IN ONLY A few weeks, 99 people will take part in a citizens’ assembly on gender equality. 

The citizens’ assembly will hold its inaugural meeting this month, with the first weekend of hearings set to be held on 14-16 February. 

This is Ireland’s latest use of citizens’ assemblies, which have become an increasingly popular method for debating complex or divisive issues in recent years. 

The decision to use a citizens’ assembly to discuss and provide recommendations on the Eighth Amendment and abortion legislation attracted international attention. 

Dr Catherine Day, the former Secretary General of the European Commission, will chair the upcoming citizens’ assembly.

The government has said that it wants to hear from the assembly how the state can support women, while the body is also expected to discuss childcare over the course of six months.  

Members of the assembly will be chosen from the electoral register and will be randomly selected to be representative of Irish society.  

Election

There was concern in December that the running of the citizens’ assembly could potentially clash with a general election. 

There has been much speculation over the date of the general election, but it appears likely that it will take place early this year. 

Last year, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin questioned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the date. 

“This may be the first time a citizens‘ assembly is due to sit during a period a general election is likely to be held. Will the holding of the election have any particular implications for the assembly?”

“Has it agreed to adopt the precedent of other bodies established by the Oireachtas to suspend public activity during elections?” he asked. 

Varadkar said it was a “pertinent” and he would be consulting with officials and Day herself whether “she thinks it is appropriate that the assembly should sit during that three to four-week period”. 

Childcare

Childcare, which is set to be discussed by the assembly, dominated the headlines in December. 

The government found itself having to issue one-off payments to childcare providers amid concerns that many could close their doors in January over the rising cost of insurance. 

Last summer, Varadkar said that women and men are far from equal. 

“We fall very far short of that and the current pace of change and the current rate of progress is too slow,” he said.

Varadkar said at the current rate, it could take many generations before women and men in Ireland are “truly equal”.

Once the citizens’ assembly is complete, an all-party committee will consider its recommendations and report them to the government. 

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