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Diverse voices call for inclusive deliberation on our constitutional future

Who are the diverse voices on the island and how can constitutional discussion and deliberation facilitate their inclusion and participation?

The “Mapping Diversity, Negotiating Differences: Constitutional Discussions on a Shared Islandreport by Dr Joanne McEvoy (University of Aberdeen) and Professor Jennifer Todd (University College Dublin) finds that inclusive deliberation is best placed to manage division, increase participation and involvement of diverse voices, and deliver the active engagement of those who feel marginalised, excluded, and “othered”.

The report is based on extensive research over several years which found that grassroots communities across the island invite opportunities to engage in constitutional discussion but feel alienated from the technical language often used in the debate. Rather than focusing on institutional design, they favour constitutional discussion as a way to discuss wider issues with potential to bring about a better society. The research showed convergence of views among different groups (women, ethnic minorities, and youth) and on both sides of the border. People wish to see bottom-up discussion, focusing on lived experience and real problems. They want to see improved communication between grassroots and policymakers; and they call for radically inclusive constitutional discussion. In pointing to potential ways forward, the Report builds on the work of the Shared Island initiative. It recommends widespread participation, linking local deliberations (e.g. the recent deliberative forum held in L/Derry) with larger forums. Inclusionary research has flourished in recent years (e.g. Ashe et al, O’Keefe et al) but we need to bring this work together, to strengthen channels of communication between grassroots participation and political planning, and to ensure that inclusion and participation are cumulative, relevant, applicable and augment democratic processes. A dedicated research Centre could coordinate the emerging best practice on the island on participation and deliberation. The Report findings provide the footing for further collaborative and coordinated constitutional deliberation.

Listen back to episode #12 of the ARINS podcast in which Joanne McEvoy and Fidelma Ashe explore the ways in which including and encouraging popular engagement can not only enrich constitutional discussion but critically can shape constitutional change.