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Learning from Ireland: How citizen participation changes democracy

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly model is globally recognised as a successful model for deliberative democracy. It involves citizens in a new way and delivers solutions in cases of political stalemate. Together with the Irish Embassy, our team New Democracy invited Art O’Leary, the pioneering organiser of the Irish Citizen’s Assembly, to the Bertelsmann Stiftung premises in Berlin. At the lively round table event, experts discussed the circumstances behind the success of Irish citizen participation and how they could be applied to Germany.

Contact persons

Foto Dominik Hierlemann
Dr. Dominik Hierlemann
Senior Advisor
Foto Angela Jain
Dr. Angela Jain
Senior Project Manager


Citizens' assemblies are "an opportunity to provide solutions to intractable problems", Art O’Leary, Chief Executive of Ireland’s Electoral Commission, summed up his experience of citizen participation in Ireland. Since 2012, he has organised numerous citizens’ assemblies in Ireland and is one of the most influential international experts on the subject. The project team New Democracy of Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Embassy of Ireland, represented by Ambassador Nicholas O’Brien, had jointly invited Art O’Leary and other experts to a discussion about citizens’ assemblies in Ireland and Germany.

Irish Citizens’ Assemblies: A role model for Germany

The event was chaired by Dominik Hierlemann, Senior Advisor in Bertelsmann Stiftung’s programme Democracy and Social Cohesion: “What is special about Ireland is the clever way in which representative, direct and deliberative democracy are interwoven.” Experiences in Ireland could be role models for citizens’ assemblies in Germany. One example of this is how policymakers handle the recommendations made by citizens’ assemblies: in Ireland, the parliament must account for why it does not follow a proposal put forward by the Citizens’ Assembly. As a result, there is a broad consensus among politicians and citizens in favour of the citizens’ assembly format.

Felix Arndt, head of the German Bundestag’s Citizens’ Assemblies Project Team stressed the significance of the Irish Citizens’ Assemblies as the inspiration behind the German Bundestag’s ongoing Citizens’ Assembly on Nutrition Change, whose recommendations should be as precise as possible before they are discussed in the responsible parliamentary committees.

Citizen assemblies were a life-changing experience for me, but not just for me but for the Irish people, they have transformed the way in which we as a nation can have a conversation.

Art O’Leary, Chief Executive of Ireland’s Electoral Commission

Citizens’ assemblies strengthen democracy

The experience gained in Ireland raises hopes that citizens’ assemblies in Germany could also serve to strengthen our representative democracy. It is vital to ensure that citizens feel that they are well represented by the citizens’ assembly. Art O’Leary said that the idea of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly was to represent "Ireland in one room”.In a society that many perceive as divided, citizens’ assemblies that are diverse because their participants were selected at random can pave the way for solution-oriented discussions and concrete recommendations for upcoming policymaking decisions