Other Resources 24th January 2018

NIOGN Submission to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Inquiry ‘Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland: dealing with the deficit’

By David McBurney

If an Executive cannot be restored, what options exist for restoring accountability and democracy in Northern Ireland? Are any of these models useful now or is a fresh approach required?

Consociation – “the cooperation of different, especially antagonistic, social groups on the basis of shared power” – is difficult to achieve for a prolonged period.

The current negotiations aimed at restoring our political institutions lack transparency and are not working. It’s time for a fresh approach that is more deliberative and involves citizens. People are often ahead of politicians on many constitutional issues and citizens should be engaged in a process to decide our future.

Using more deliberative democratic methods would open up the prospect of prescriptions that are representative of the entire population and based on evidence-based analysis of the merits of competing arguments. Deliberation requires “weighing” competing arguments for policies or candidates in a context of mutually civil and diverse discussion in which people can decide on the merits of arguments with good information.

A good deliberative public engagement process makes a difference – to participants, to decisions and to policy. The process: is transparent; has integrity; is tailored to circumstances; involves the right number and types of people; treats participants with respect; gives priority to participants’ discussions; and is reviewed to assess what has been achieved and evaluated to improve practice.

Much of the energy in deliberative democracy efforts has focused on statistical microcosms or mini-publics, in which citizens, recruited by random sampling, deliberate in organized settings. In some settings, relatively small groups of fifteen or so deliberate online with an elected representative. In other settings, the groups can be given access to balanced information and briefing materials that make the best case for and against various options. They can also be given access to competing experts who answer their questions from different points of view. Then, at the end of the deliberations, there is some way of harvesting their considered judgments.

Other mini-publics, such as citizens’ juries and citizens’ assemblies arrive at an agreed-upon statement or verdict as a recommendation to the public or to authorized policy-makers. Some randomly selected mini-publics even make binding decisions.

To view the full submission, please click here…