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Lobby groups warned over intensive lobbying of constitutional convention

Convention chairman Tom Arnold says citizen members are entitled not to be bombarded with unwanted contact.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny addresses the Constitutional Convention in Dublin Castle yesterday.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny addresses the Constitutional Convention in Dublin Castle yesterday.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE CHAIRMAN of the Constitutional Convention, the body tasked with recommending up to eight possible changes to the Constitution of Ireland, has warned lobby groups against intensive lobbying of the convention’s members.

The 100-member body, which met for the first time in Dublin Castle yesterday, includes 66 members of the general public who were identified and invited to participate by a polling company tasked with finding a representative sample of the Irish population.

The group’s chairman, Concern chief executive Tom Arnold, said the convention was “keen” to engage with interest groups who may wish to offer input on specific topics, but that there were fears among some members that they could be bombarded by unwanted contact.

Arnold said some members had expressed concerns that they might receive intense lobbying by interest groups, who may be hoping to influence the convention’s decisions on more emotive matters such as full gay marriage rights, or a possible examination of the constitutional provisions surrounding abortion.

The latter topic is not officially on the group’s terms of reference, but its terms do allow it to consider matters of its own choosing as long as it has already dealt with the eight matters referred to it by the Dáil and Seanad.

‘May affect your chances’

Arnold told RTÉ’s This Week that the convention would welcome submissions from any body or group, and hoped to have some groups address its members, but warned that bodies which tried to bombard members with contact that their actions would not been treated favourably.

“If you do this, it may affect your chances of speaking to the convention,” Arnold said.

“We need to get the balance right here,” he said. While it was important that ordinary members of the public and lobby groups were allowed to have their say, “members of the convention are equally entitled not to be the subject of excessive lobbying.”

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Arnold also said some details of the identities of the 66 citizen members – which had, up until now, been kept secret – would be published, after members agreed yesterday to have select details made public.

The identities of the 66 ordinary members had previously been kept under wraps, for fear of contact from unwanted parties – but the proposal met with public antipathy, with some arguing that the anonymity of the 66 was detrimental to the convention’s hopes of winning broader trust.

Arnold added that the convention’s first “working meeting” would be held at the end of January, and that the body would report on its first two topics – lowering the voting age to 17, and shortening the Presidential term of office to five years – by the end of March.

Read: Constitutional Convention meets for first time

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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