Hold Referenda Arising from the Recommendations of the Constitutional Convention (IE0010)
Action Plan: Ireland, First Action Plan, 2014-16
Action Plan Cycle: 2014
Lead Institution: Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (DEC&LG), Department of Justice and Equality (DJ&E)
Support Institution(s): NA
Policy AreasDemocratizing Decision-Making, Gender, Inclusion, Public Participation, Regulatory Governance
Arising from the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention, the Government has so far committed to holding three referenda in 2015 in relation to:
Reduce age of candidacy for Presidential elections
Reduce voting age
Same sex marriage
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Cluster 2: Citizen Participation (2.2.1, 2.2.2, ✪2.3)
2.2.1 – Undertake public engagement early in the legislative process
2.2.2 – (A) and (B) Build capacity of public bodies to provide Access to Information on the Environment under the Aarhus Convention
2.3 – Hold Referenda arising from the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention
Action 2.2.1 – Undertake public engagement early in the legislative process: For increased citizen participation at Committee level in the legislative process through systematic pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills will provide greater opportunities for engagement by the public in law making. At the pre-legislative stage, the Committee can consult with citizens, civic society groups and other interested groups;
Action 2.2.2 (A) and (B) – Build capacity of public bodies to provide Access to Information on the Environment under the Aarhus Convention – Development and delivery of a training module to train staff in public bodies on access to environmental information as provided for in the Aarhus Convention. This module will cover both responding to AIE requests and proactive dissemination of environmental information. It will also provide information on the requirements of both European and national implementing legislation and on case law. In parallel it is proposed to create a database which will record requests for information under AIE regulations, including statistics on number of requests granted, refused or partially refused. This database will provide a basis for analysis of requests similar to that which is in place for FoI;
Action 2.3 – Hold Referenda arising from the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention: Arising from the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention, the Government has so far committed to holding three referenda in 2015 in relation to: reduce the age of candidacy for Presidential elections, reducing voting age, same sex marriage.
Action 2.2.1: Houses of the Oireachtas
Action 2.2.2: DEC&LG Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (DEC&LG)
Action 2.3: Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (DEC&LG) and DJ&E Department of Justice and Equality (DJ&E)
Supporting institution(s): Action 2.2.2: Environment Pillar, Environmental Law Implementation Group (ELIG)
Start date: 1 July 2014 End date: December 2015
Editorial note: Commitment 2.3 is clearly relevant to OGP values as written, has transformative potential impact, and is substantially or completely implemented and therefore qualifies as a starred commitment.
The broad theme of these actions related to fostering citizen participation in legislative decision making, increasing public integrity, and promoting the culture of transparency and accountability. These objectives were to be achieved in three ways. First, Action 2.2.1 introduced the procedure of pre-legislative scrutiny, which allows individuals, CSOs, and interest groups to participate via consultation in decision making early in the legislative process, something that was not possible before the action plan. Second, under the Aarhus Convention, Action 2.2.2 implements a database to record the requests for information on the environment. This commitment represents a new fundamental step towards the access to information for citizens, interest groups, and public bodies at all levels of government. Third, Action 2.3 committed to hold referenda on the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention. As recommended by the Convention, the government committed to holding three referenda in 2015 in relation to marriage equality, reducing the age of candidacy for presidential elections, and reducing the voting age.
2.2.2 (A&B): Substantial
2.3 (✪): Substantial
As discussed in the IRM midterm report, before the action plan, the actions were pre-existing policies on the government’s agenda. For example, Parliament expanded and formalized the pre-legislative consultation phase of legislation in November 2013. After the action plan was adopted, it opened the debate around active citizenship. From the development of the action plan in 2014 several goals were achieved in the first year of the action plan including, inter alia as discussed in the midterm report which is available online,
- Fourty eight bills in total were considered under the pre-legislative consultation, resulting in 43 committee reports. Under this form of consultation, Ministers can have the Heads of a Bill (i.e. the outline of the Bill) reviewed by the appropriate Oireachtas (i.e. parliamentary) committee before the drafting process is completed and the bill published. The review process in the committee can involve hearings with stakeholders or invitations to send submissions. The use of pre-legislative scrutiny via committees is expected to continue on an ongoing basis.
- Collaboration with CSOs (e.g., Environmental Pillar, Environmental Law Implementation Group) in bilateral meetings to discuss the implementation of the Access to Information on the Environmental (AIE) policy. There was also collection of environmental data for 2013. By July 2015, the delivery of training sessions to over 120 civil servants in public bodies at the local and national level of government on the use and relevance of environmental data took place.
- The organization of two referenda were held in May 2015. Action 2.3 has been praised for its deliberative nature, particularly the marriage equality referendum, which gained international media exposure.
As such, Action 2.2.1 was considered complete after the midterm.
End of term
2.2.2 (A&B): Substantial
2.3 (✪): Substantial
With Action 2.2.1 (establishment of a procedure of systematic pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills) completed by the end of year one, attention is now focused on the other two remaining actions. Regarding the training on Access to Environmental Information, incomplete implementation may be due in part to the delays of forming government after elections in February 2016. For example, as seen in the government end of term self-assessment report, 2015 statistics on AEI information requests are still being compiled and will be published soon, and a third training event is being planned for Q4 (i.e. at the end of) 2016. Regarding Action 2.3, at the start of year two, only two of the three referenda outlined in the original action plan have been held. Based on the government’s end of term self-assessment report, as well as desk research, this is still the case at the end of year two. Given these observations, both 2.2.2 and 2.3 Actions’ progress may be deemed substantial, but not complete.
Did it open government?
Access to information: Major (2.2.1 & 2.2.2)
Civic participation: Marginal (2.2.1), Major (2.3)
Public accountability: Did not change (2.2.2)
Regarding opening government:
- On Action 2.2.1, the procedure of pre-legislative scrutiny is expected to have strong effects on the use of forms of participatory democracy. Although it is difficult to gauge if this will continue to be conducted in the same sustainable manner as it had been up to the change in government, there has been a change to the initial status quo (when pre-legislative scrutiny was absent) as information on 48 bills were considered under pre-legislative consultation. If this trend continues, this may create avenues for increased public participation in the legislative process if all bills go through pre-legislative scrutiny.
- On Action 2.2.2, the AIE training module is ongoing, and it remains difficult to assess the effects of the policy on public accountability, where one civil society leader said that the training sessions of public bodies could have been more fully promoted to include a larger audience of civil servants. However, the record of information requests has been updated annually and is available online.[Note 13: http://www.housing.gov.ie/search/archived/current/sub-type/aie-logs/type/statistics?query=]
- Finally, on Action 2.3, the effect of the action has been transformative. As a form of deliberative democracy, the Constitutional Convention and the referenda have promoted the participation of citizens on constitutional matters. Although no other referenda have taken place, this practice fundementally changed the precedent of citizen participation in national debates.
These actions have not been carried forward in the next action plan. The IRM researcher concludes that the main challenge of this cluster has been achieving completion of the AIE training modules and information request database. It is recommended that the state ensure the availability of resources (staff and funding) for these tasks to be done.
Additionally, the IRM researcher recommends, that the government hold the remaining referendum that was outlined in the action plan, and consider which other issues may be opened for a referendum in the future.