Constitutional Disagreement, Deliberation and Change

Constitutions mediate political disagreement across time: constitutional change mechanisms allow the contemporary generation to alter constitutional commitments, thereby impacting upon future generations. Ireland has recently undergone a significant period of constitutional change, during which the right to life of the unborn and the criminal prohibition on blasphemy were removed and the recognition of same-sex marriage was mandated. These changes were all approved by referendum but the proposals for change were shaped by initial recommendations from a forum of deliberative democracy. In this paper, we present Ireland's Citizens Assembly as a mechanism that: (a) softened the elite power to initiate a referendum; (b) allowed the exploration of contested legal issues that paved the way for the referendum campaign; (c) altered the parameters for the politically-driven constitutional change process, and (d) demonstrated the potential for informed debate on a highly contentious issue.