Eckstein Lecture: The Practice of Accidental Institutional Design: Ireland’s Emerging "Deliberative Democratic System"
Democracies, we know, evolve. The most exciting democratic innovation in recent decades has been the emergence of deliberative mini-publics (most prominent among them citizens’ assemblies), whose memberships comprise random selections of regular citizens tasked with considering policy issues. Ireland has been at the crest of what the OECD calls a “deliberative wave,” not least as shown by the significant contributions DMPs have made to national policy debates over the legalization of abortion (2018) and gay marriage (2015). In their influential “manifesto,” Mansbridge et al. (2012) write of a new phase in the study of deliberative democracy, which has seen the emergence of “deliberative systems,” where DMPs are linked in with the different parts of the political system. Ireland has again been at the forefront here, as demonstrated by the regularity of DMPs (five since 2012 and two more planned for this year). DMPs are now common currency in Ireland, supported by all political parties and across civil society. Over the last decade Ireland has seen the gradual institutionalization of DMPs into the wider political system. But unlike other cases (notably Belgium), this is not due to some grand design. Consistent with Goodin’s reference to accidental institutional design, the lecture outlines the emerging “Irish model” that has been in part the product of serendipity, in part path dependency. The outcome (to date) reveals the real-world potential (and limitations) of a “deliberative democratic system.”