Public participation and controversy involving science: an Irish perspective
Barbagallo, Fiona (2003) Public participation and controversy involving science: an Irish perspective. PhD thesis, Dublin City University.
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In the past few years public participation programmes, such as consensus conferences and citizen juries, have become popular in many countries that want to explore ways to increase the involvement o f their citizens in policy making involving controversial science. Such initiatives aim to bring social and moral issues to policy discussions that are often dominated by scientific and technical information. This is not to undermine the importance of scientific expertise, but to broaden the discussion of issues involving science that are increasingly of interest to members o f the general public and interest groups. However, for these public participation initiatives to be legitimate they must have clear comiections to the policy-making process.
The two Irish case studies that I have used to illustrate the current level o f public involvement in policy making and the willingness o f the Irish political culture to incorporate social and moral issues into the policy-making process were genetically modified (GM) foods and water fluoridation.
This thesis analyses three Irish consultation processes: the Department o f Environment and Local Government’s National Public Consultation on genetically modified organisms and the environment; BioResearch Ireland’s BioDivulga Stakeholder Workshop; and the Department of Health and Children’s Forum on Fluoridation. In the past it has been difficult to compare public participation programmes because of the different goals and cultures o f different countries. To overcome this comparative difficulty I developed a framework to take these differences into account. My research found that there are a range o f Irish citizens and interest groups who have social and moral concerns surrounding GM foods and water fluoridation but the consultation procedures adopted by the relevant government departments were not adequate to explore these concerns. However there are indications that the Irish government is willing to explore new public participation initiatives. What remains to be seen is how such initiatives will be incorporated into Ireland’s current political culture, which views science as the dominant authority.
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