Participatory  techniques  such  as  workshops,  citizen  juries  and  consensus conferences  have  become  popular  in  many  countries  over  the  past  few  years  as  a way of consulting the publics in policy making involving science. Such techniques do not  aim  to  undermine  the  importance  of  the  scientific  expert  or  policy  maker,  but  to improve  public  involvement  and  increase  public  awareness,  and  to  include  the broader  social  and  moral  issues  into  policy  making.  However  for  these  public participatory initiatives to be legitimate they must have clear connections to the policy decision-making process.

The  case  study  of  water  fluoridation  in  Ireland  in  this  paper  is  used  to  explore  Irish policy culture and its willingness to incorporate public issues in science into the policy process. Ireland is the only EU country that has a compulsory fluoridation scheme and is  currently  reviewing  its  forty-year-old  Health  Act  of  fluoridating  public  piped  water supplies.  The  recent  controversy  was  sparked  by  an  upgrade  of  a  region’s  water scheme  that  now  requires  the  water  to  be  fluoridated.  This  event  instigated  a campaign  against  water  fluoridation,  arguing  that  fluoride  in  drinking  water  causes osteoporosis, bone cancer, genetic defects and other serious side effects; as well as the moral issue of people not having the right to choose what is in their drinking water.

In  February  2000  the  Department  of  Health  and  Children,  responsible  for  water fluoridation, contacted the School of Communication, Dublin City University, known to research  public  communication  of  issues  surrounding  the  genetically  modified  food debate.   The  Chief  Dental  Officer  requested  advice  on  how  to  communicate  the issues of fluoridation to the wider public with the aim of minimising public controversy.

It was suggested to the Department of Health and Children that their communication strategy  allows  for:  dialogue  and  two-way  communication  with  the  publics;  the gathering  of  publics’  opinions  and  understandings  of  fluoridation;  and  the incorporation  of  this  information  in  the  review  of  the  Health  Act.   This  paper investigates  the  Department  of  Health  and  Children’s  response  to  a  call  for  greater public consultation in the policy making process of fluoridation. 



 

">
 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Fluoridation in Ireland
Are policy makers ready to listen to lay experts?

Fiona Barbagallo   Dublin City University

Participatory  techniques  such  as  workshops,  citizen  juries  and  consensus conferences  have  become  popular  in  many  countries  over  the  past  few  years  as  a way of consulting the publics in policy making involving science. Such techniques do not  aim  to  undermine  the  importance  of  the  scientific  expert  or  policy  maker,  but  to improve  public  involvement  and  increase  public  awareness,  and  to  include  the broader  social  and  moral  issues  into  policy  making.  However  for  these  public participatory initiatives to be legitimate they must have clear connections to the policy decision-making process.

The  case  study  of  water  fluoridation  in  Ireland  in  this  paper  is  used  to  explore  Irish policy culture and its willingness to incorporate public issues in science into the policy process. Ireland is the only EU country that has a compulsory fluoridation scheme and is  currently  reviewing  its  forty-year-old  Health  Act  of  fluoridating  public  piped  water supplies.  The  recent  controversy  was  sparked  by  an  upgrade  of  a  region’s  water scheme  that  now  requires  the  water  to  be  fluoridated.  This  event  instigated  a campaign  against  water  fluoridation,  arguing  that  fluoride  in  drinking  water  causes osteoporosis, bone cancer, genetic defects and other serious side effects; as well as the moral issue of people not having the right to choose what is in their drinking water.

In  February  2000  the  Department  of  Health  and  Children,  responsible  for  water fluoridation, contacted the School of Communication, Dublin City University, known to research  public  communication  of  issues  surrounding  the  genetically  modified  food debate.   The  Chief  Dental  Officer  requested  advice  on  how  to  communicate  the issues of fluoridation to the wider public with the aim of minimising public controversy.

It was suggested to the Department of Health and Children that their communication strategy  allows  for:  dialogue  and  two-way  communication  with  the  publics;  the gathering  of  publics’  opinions  and  understandings  of  fluoridation;  and  the incorporation  of  this  information  in  the  review  of  the  Health  Act.   This  paper investigates  the  Department  of  Health  and  Children’s  response  to  a  call  for  greater public consultation in the policy making process of fluoridation. 



 

[PDF 42.07 kB]Download the full paper (PDF 42.07 kB)

BACK TO TOP