Building Democracy Back Better:
Involving the public in NI’s COVID recovery
Citizens’ assemblies and other democratic innovations have been taking off around the world in recent years in response to the multiple crises facing democracy. Northern Ireland had its first independently organised citizens’ assembly back in 2018 and in the New Decade New Approach agreement the governments and political parties committed to a new era of ‘structured civic engagement’ including through regular citizens’ assemblies. The many pressing and complex challenges raised by COVID present an ideal opportunity to put this commitment into effect by giving the people of Northern Ireland a central role in deciding what sort of recovery we need. This panel and participative discussion organised by the Community Foundation will explore how a Build Back Better Citizens’ Assembly could help NI’s recovery and give the audience a chance to have their say. There will also be inputs from individuals who have previously taken part in a citizens’ assembly and from other parts of the UK who are adopting a participatory approach to recovery.
The people of Northern Ireland have come together in an extraordinary way over the past year and risen to the shared challenge of the COVID19 pandemic. They have, for the most part, treated their civic responsibilities with the utmost seriousness and heeded government’s call for a temporary curtailment of personal freedoms for the common good. As we move beyond the emergency phase of this pandemic, it is surely time that government recognised and reciprocated this public trust, by giving the people of Northern Ireland a central role in deciding what sort of recovery we need, to ensure that we emerge from this crisis having ‘built back better’ – a more resilient, just and sustainable society.
In the New Decade New Approach agreement politicians and government made a welcome commitment to a new era of “structured civic engagement” including through the use of regular citizens’ assemblies. Now is the time to operationalise this commitment through a Build Back Better Citizens’ Assembly, engaging a representative group of the public in identifying what the critical issues are in our – spanning the economy, public policy and public services – and how they should be addressed.
Recent experiences with citizens’ assemblies, both here and in other parts of the UK and Ireland, have shown that the public are more than up to the task of coming together to deliberate around complex and difficult issues, working with elected representatives and government to identify deliverable solutions. The onus is now on us to build on this and harness the unprecedented levels of community engagement and collaboration to build a more equal, participative and cohesive society.
As well as hearing from speakers, participants will have an opportunity to have their say about what shape NI’s recovery should take.
Find out more: communityfoundationni.org