Northern Ireland

How can Northern Ireland break the deadlock on contested issues?

Citizens' Assembly for Northern Ireland
Building Change Trust, Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Open Society Foundations

The Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland met over two weekends in October/November 2018 to consider how the social care system for older people should be reformed to be fit for the future.

It brought together a group of 75 citizens from across Northern Ireland to learn about the issue and deliberate, before reaching recommendations.

The citizens’ assembly was set the task to:

  • Explore aspirations for social care for older people, including the role the health service, communities and individuals need to play.
  • Develop useful, realistic recommendations for delivering a sustainable, fit-for-purpose social care system for older people, future-proofed to cope with the needs of the next generations (within the context of finite resources).


Members of the Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland agreed 3 high-level resolutions, which reflect the core themes of their discussions throughout the first weekend. These resolutions relate to:

  1. the need for more funding for social care for older people;
  2. the need for transformational change; and
  3. the need for strong leadership.

These resolutions were intended to provide context for the subsequent recommendations made by the members.

The Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland developed and agreed 27 recommendations across three themes:

  1. The care needs of individuals – focussing on person-centred social care for older people, able to be responsive to individual circumstances and choices;
  2. Social care systems and structures – including how care needs are assessed, commissioned and provided; and
  3. Care providers – focusing on what needed to be done to develop the care workforce and support unpaid carers.

The recommendations set out the range of measures that the members prioritised as needing to take place in order to deliver a sustainable, fit-for-purpose social care system for older people now and in the future. The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland have been passed to the Department of Health for consideration. They form a compelling agenda for transformational reforms and deserve to be carefully considered by politicians, policy-makers and anyone interested in reforming the social care system for older people.

The Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland demonstrated that members of the public, when given the time, information and support, are able to consider complex issues and make detailed recommendations. A survey of MLAs found that 52% agreed (compared to 19% who disagreed) that “A future Executive should pay close attention to the findings of the Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland pilot on social care”.

Citizens’ assemblies are one of many approaches that can be adopted in Northern Ireland to involve citizens in policy-making. They offer particular value in addressing some of the complex and contested issues that face Northern Ireland now and in the future. They should be adopted by institutions in Northern Ireland to understand informed public opinion and help to break the political deadlock on important issues.

Visit the Citizens' Assembly for Northern Ireland website for more information.

Who’s Involved

The Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland was funded by Building Change TrustCommunity Foundation for Northern IrelandPaul Hamlyn Foundation and Open Society Foundations.


Click here for more information on the citizens' assembly method.