Associations, deliberation and democracy: The case of Ireland’s social partnership
Gaynor, Niamh (2011) Associations, deliberation and democracy: The case of Ireland’s social partnership. Politics and Society, 39 (4). pp. 497-519. ISSN 0032-3292
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Over the past two decades there has been a burgeoning interest and research into experiments and innovations in participatory governance. While advocates highlight the merits of such new governance arrangements in moving beyond traditional interest group representations and deepening democracy through deliberation with a broad range of civic associations, critics express concern about the political legitimacy and democratic accountability of participating associations, highlighting in particular the dangers of co-option and faction. Addressing these concerns, a number of theorists identify an important role for civic associations in linking deliberations at micro policy levels to those within the public sphere more broadly. These normative contributions raise an important empirical question - does civic associational engagement at micro levels leave scope to engage both laterally across associations and vertically with members and citizens more broadly? More simply put, is civic associational engagement within micro-policy fora 'good' for democracy more broadly?
Drawing from a study of civic associational engagement in Ireland’s national Social Partnership process over a ten year period this paper argues that, where deliberations become overshadowed by more traditional communicative norms of bargaining and negotiation, it is not. Evidence is presented from the Irish case to show how civic actors, having internalised the dominant communicative norms of the process, have contributed towards a narrowing of the deliberative space both within, but most particularly, outside this process. This, it is argued, has resulted in a considerably weakened public sphere with neither the institutional apparatus nor the discursive capacity to seek accountability from political and civic leaders at a time of profound crisis within the Irish state.
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