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Political World

Constitutional Convention illustrates that ordinary citizens can play their part in the process after all

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Political World with Harry McGee

I have to say I was sceptical about the notion of a citizens’ assembly becoming part of official political discourse in Ireland. The idea is that rather than getting politicians to decide on new political direction, you get a representative group of people drawn from all strands of society – getting the demographics and geographics right, as Bertie Ahern kept on saying.

To me it seemed like an indulgence to political scientists – telling them all their Christmases had come as one. My instinct was there was potential for manipulation, conscious and subconscious.

But I must say I have revised my view somewhat. The Constitutional Convention has, on the whole, been a good idea. I have been at three or four of the sessions, some looking at relatively trivial constitutional change, others grappling with big ideas like Constitutional Change.

Overall, I think it’s been a worthwhile exercise and a really good example of democracy being more embracing and inclusive.

Of course, there are a couple of variations to the Irish model about which people will argue. The first was the fact that it’s not all citizens but that 33 of the 99 ordinary members (chairman Tom Arnold has been neutral) were politicians. In effect, a majority of the politicians have acted as a brake on some more of the radical ideas… though not all.

Having said that, on another level, the mix of politician and citizens worked surprisingly well as they weren’t really two opposing camps but worked together and fed off each other.

In the round-table discussions the citizens were able to rely on the experience and expertise of TDs and Senators (plus a number of Assembly members from the North) to explain how things are done, or should be done, or could be done.

The converse was that the politicians were able to hear first-hand the considered view of ordinary people about what works and what doesn’t work.

The result of the Convention isn’t binding on Government, but I hope it does take its reports seriously. The thing that impressed me most was how seriously the 66 citizens (and their alternates) who took part in the Convention took their roles and responsibilities.

I was there for the very first session where many of them were tentative and nervous and seemed a bit overwhelmed by the experience and all the media attention. But by this weekend, the sixth session, all had long overcome this.

The quality of question and contribution from ordinary members was very impressive. When you hear a guy quoting not just from the 1937 Constitution but also from its 1922 predecessor you know that guy is engaged.

The level of commitment was also evident from the weather. For the first weekend in living memory, the sun shone continuously – yet here were ordinary citizens happy to be holed up in a darkish room for the entire weekend on a voluntary basis.

We’ll briefly touch on the thinking behind such conventions before looking at the format. The citizens are selected by a polling company and come from every corner of the country. They are from cities, from the countryside, rich and poor, men and women, old and young, well educated or with minimal education.

The idea is that this is a mini-population and if given sufficient information and briefing in a balanced manner they will make recommendations that will mirror that of the larger population if there was a referendum (but without the kind of emotion and extremes and shouting of a campaign).

The format is simple. Political academics give briefings on the issue that is under discussion. They will outline the history, describe the pros and cons of the current situation, and then explain all the alternatives that will be available. Usually, two people will also be invited in to vote for and against the proposed change.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Trimble leaves a legacy of peace to be proud of

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David Trimble...lasting legacy.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The death of David Trimble brought back memories of the time he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize almost a quarter of a century ago, along with John Hume, for their efforts in securing the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

It could be argued that others should have been also on the plane to Oslo that winter, namely Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness also played an important role by steering the hard men of the IRA on a path that saw them end their campaign of violence and accept a political solution achieved by solely democratic means.

Of course, it would have been a blatant contradiction to award a peace prize to Adams and McGuinness given their instrumental roles in a republican movement that prosecuted a ruthless armed strategy for almost 30 years right up to that time. The Damascene conversion in 1998 did not erase what had gone before.

Certainly, Hume and those around him from the SDLP – particularly Séamus Mallon – deserved all the praise they got for their selfless pursuit of a political pathway and their brave eschewal of all forms of violence as they grappled with the unique set of circumstances of Northern Ireland.

That said, Trimble showed a huge degree of personal courage and resilience in facing down his critics and enemies – and there were many loud and bitter voices condemning him on the unionist side – and persevering with the talks that culminated with the historic agreement in Hillsborough Castle on that Good Friday in early April in 1998.

But it would have been unimaginable for him to be in that position three years before hand or even three years afterwards when the UUP began imploding around him. The important thing was that he stayed the course during that crucial period.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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