Update on Local and European Election Candidates

Atheist Ireland continues to contact European and Local Election candidates, asking them to support a Secular Statement supporting freedom of religion or belief and separation of church and state.

We will update regularly on which candidates have either signed or expressed their support for the values outlined in the Secular Statement and those who have decided not to sign.

Please continue to ask any election candidates who call to your door whether they support this statement, and if you have time you could also contact them directly to ask them. If you need a list of the candidates in your local area please email Ashling at dublin@atheist.ie and she can provided you with that.  Also, please let us know what response you get from candidates.

This is the text of the Secular Statement, which is an adapted version of the Dublin Declaraton on Secularism that was adopted at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in 2011.

We have been in contact with all the major parties and have so far received replies from Green Party, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein.

Mark Dearey issued the following statement of support and has signed the Secular Statement on behalf of the Green Party:

“I am happy to have concluded a detailed exploration of the issues around the Secular Statement issued by the Cavan Monaghan Branch of Atheist Ireland. I found their approach to be respectful of all faiths and none, and the dialogue was sufficiently flexible to allow both sides learn from each other and to find common ground on the role of politics vis a vis matters of religious belief.

The document triggered a discussion within the Green Party about the duty of politics to ensure that political and constitutional frameworks support all people to hold whatever views they wish with regard to faith and religious practice. It’s been  helpful process and although I am the one signing the statement, Eamon Ryan in Dublin and Grace O’Sullivan in Ireland South are both in agreement”.

Joe O’Reilly has issued the following statement on behalf of Fine Gael:

Fine Gael believes that pluralism and diversity are important in a vibrant democracy. Recognising this, we must also be conscious of the need to equally respect and support the various religious denominations within our society.  Their faith systems are a deep part of their being and that should never be lost sight of either.

 In Government we are working, with our colleagues in the Labour Party, to do that and to nurture the room for diversity, which should exist in a Republic.

Blasphemy

Next year, a referendum will be held giving the Irish people an opportunity to retain or remove the provision which holds that blasphemy is an offence (Article 40.6.1°).

Education

Fine Gael is committed to providing parental choice and diversity. Following the Report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector, work is ongoing to give effect to its recommendations. Public consultations have taken place in 43 towns regarding patronage of primary schools. In 28 of these the parents have opted for greater choice of patrons and the Department of Education is engaging with the patrons to find suitable premises for an alternative patron provider. Additionally, patronage of new schools has been awarded to patrons providing for multidenominational schools in a number of areas. Four new Educate Together schools will open in September. In September 2013, the Department of Education launched a public consultation on inclusiveness in primary schools and how best to accommodate students of various belief systems and traditions.  The submissions received, along with the Forum Report findings and recommendations will be considered in the preparation of a White Paper on Patronage this year.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment that “People of non-faith or minority religious backgrounds and publicly identified LGBT people should not be deterred from training or taking up employment as teachers in the state.” In this regard the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) designate has been asked to consider and provide advice in relation to amending Section 37 of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2011. A public consultation has been undertaken, attracting a large volume of submissions.  The Report of the IHREC will be considered by the Minister for Justice and Equality along with other Members of the Government will consider its recommendations and bring forward the necessary amendments to the legislation”.

We have contacted Joe again to ask if Fine Gael will be commenting on the content of the Secular Statement and are awaiting a reply.

Fianna Fáil issued a statement as follows:

“Thank you for your correspondence with regard to your organisation’s secular statement. Fianna Fáil is a progressive, republican party with a firm belief in equality. It is a key objective for us to sustain a state which is tolerant, outward looking and run in the interests of the people. In the educational sphere, Fianna Fáil is committed to providing a greater level of diversity in the choice of patronage available to parents in a community in our planning of new schools; and to assisting the Catholic Church with their work on the divesting of patronage in areas where there is no diversity of provision.

While there is much in your statement that the Fianna Fáil party could and does support we do not think it is appropriate for us as a political party to endorse an atheist statement. At this time, Fianna Fáil does not believe that references to obligations to deities in the constitution need to be removed. We feel that the current constitutional balance continues to be appropriate in that regard.

Thank you again for your correspondence.”

The Labour Party press office issued the following statement:

“For Labour, the principles of pluralism, tolerance, freedom of choice and freedom of education are of great significance. The principle of freedom of education is one that is particularly important, and Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has engaged in a process of dialogue with the Catholic Church to ensure a wider range of schools is available to communities throughout Ireland. This year will see the publication of a White Paper on Patronage and Pluralism, which will help confirm that all schools, regardless of ethos, are welcoming, inclusive spaces”

We contacted the Labour Party again to enquire which, if any, parts of the Statement they had difficulties with and offered to meet with them to talk through the Secular Statement. We were informed that this would be the only statement they would be issuing in relation to the Secular Statement.

Matt Carthy issued a statement on behalf of Sinn Féin as follows:

“First, my sincere apologies for the delay in getting back to you with regard the Atheist Ireland Secular Statement.

Second, I have reviewed the statement and consulted with party members who participated in the recent Constitutional Convention.

There is much in the Secular Statement Sinn Féin (and I) can support. For example, the party is on record as supporting the removal of the blasphemy clause. We spoke and voted in favour of it in the Constitutional Convention and would support this position at referendum, and are currently preparing legislation for its removal. Likewise, we are favourable to general secularisation of the 1937 Constitution, and believe that any future United Ireland Constitution should also be secular. Any constitution that aims to be fully inclusive of all sections of society must be a secular constitution. As such, it must also provide robust protection for the right to freedom of expression as well as freedom of belief and freedom of religion, and the related rights to freedom from discrimination, harassment or incitement to hatred on grounds of religious belief.

Having said that, the statement as it stands is not without its problems and issues that would need to be teased out further. Sinn Féin (and I) support the points in section 1, although the wording of 1(a) is not strictly legally accurate (it is freedom of conscience and belief including religious belief that are unlimited, whereas ‘freedom of religion’ more broadly is partially limited as to its exercise and expression).

We support section 2 (a)-(d). However, the wording of 2(e) is a bit too broad to be supported, as it does not take into account affirmative action measures that may be necessary for the amelioration of historic or current patterns and achievement of effective equality.

We also fully support section 4.

For the most part Sinn Féin and I support section 3.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a response, and again, my apologies for the delay in getting back to you”

The following Local Election candidates have either signed the Secular Statement, or have contacted us to say that they are supportive of it (or the Dublin Declaration):

Mags Sheehan – Green Party running in Claremorris (Mayo)

Gus O’Connell – Independent running in Lucan

David McWeeney – Sein Féin running in Roscommon (Athlone)

John O’Donovan – Independent running in Crumlin-Kimmage

Ossian Smyth – Green Party running in Dun Laoghaire

Oliver Moran – Green Party running in Cork City North East

Cara Augustenborg – Green Party running in Killiney – Shankill

Sandy Gallagher – Labour running in Kells

Wayne Forde – Independent running in Navan

The following European Election candidates have either signed the Secular Statement, or have contacted us to say that they are supportive of it (or the Dublin Declaration):

Brid Smith – People Before Profit running in Dublin

Paul Murphy – Socialist Party running in Dublin

Eamon Ryan – Green Party running in Dublin

Mark Deary – Green Party running in Midland-North-West

Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan – Independent running in Midland-North-West

Grace O’Sullivan – Green Party running in South Constituency

The following local Election candidates have declined to sign the Secular Statement:

Darren O’Rourke – Sein Féin running in Ashbourne. Darren responded: “I’d very much support a secular Ireland. My background in science might have something to do with it! My delay in responding is that I’m waiting to hear back from our Justice people in relation to the line on the right “not to be offended”. When I hear from them I’ll get back to you“.

We will follow up with Darren after the elections to see if we can discuss his one concern with him.

Alan Hayes – Independent running in Lucan. Alan was largely supportive of the Secular Statement and issued the following: Thanks for your email. I’m glad you sent this on to me. I agree with most of it and I have a reservation over one point; “(a) State education should be secular. Religious education, if it happens, should be limited to education about religion and its absence.” I wonder if people should have the choice? Meaning that the state should provide religious and non religious education according to demand? Let me know your thoughts on that.

We will contact Alan after the election to discuss this point with him.

Claire O’Driscoll – Fianna Fáil running in Ashbourne. Claire responded as follows: “Thanks for your email. I have made the decision not to sign any of the petitions that I am receiving currently in my mail. Making promises that are not kept appear to have been detrimental to many candidates recently. I have always held my signature in high regard and I will not sign anything without due consideration and information. I am a Roman Catholic and you can be sure that I respect the right of all citizens to freedom of religion or belief while not infringing on the rights of other citizens.
Feel free to send me any information that you consider would help in making a more informed decision into the future”.

Mary Croke – Labour running in Cavan-Belturbet & Ciarán Connolly – Labour running in Carrickmacross-Castleblaney  issued the following joint statement: “As a Labour candidate, the principles of pluralism, tolerance, freedom of choice and freedom of education are indeed of great significance to me. The principle of freedom of education is one that is particularly important, and Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has engaged in a process of dialogue with the Catholic Church to ensure a wider range of schools is available to communities throughout Ireland. This year will see the publication of a White Paper on Patronage and Pluralism which will help confirm that all schools, regardless of ethos, are welcoming, inclusive spaces. While I and Mary agree with many of the statements in your statement myself and Mary will be refraining as a general rule from signing up to pledges and statements from pressure and lobby groups”

Sean Tyrrell – Independent running in Ballymun (Dublin City). Sean has declined to sign as he feels that “it costs a lot of time and money to have a constitutional referendum… and… if we are going to be spending this money on a referendum there are higher priority issues that must be taken into account ahead of the removal of “blasphemy” and the sovereignty of the state being derived from god” and he assures that “nobody will be put in prison or fined for blasphemy any time soon, while deriving the sovereignty of the state from god plays no part in the day to day running of the country”. He also states that “it needs to be bared in mind that the right to expression subject to public order and morality. It was ruled by the courts that a breach of public order in this case is to incite hatred towards another person or group eg. To hand out literature encouraging people to assault homosexual people would not be protected by this fundamental right, even if I tried to use religion as an excuse, If I am correct I believe the bible says “do no lie with another man as you would with a woman” there is nothing there about beating people up. The courts also noted they could not and will not rule on morality until legislated for by law”.

Caroline FitzGerald – Green Party running in West Mayo. Caroline’s full response to a request to sign the Secular Statement is as follows: “I believe that all religions and none should have equal status and say. I do not personally support or have any association with atheism”. Caroline’s exertion that she did not want to have any association with atheism alarmed us, given the issue that we had raised previously with the Green Party (see post dated 25th April) and so we contacted her again to seek clarification so she would not be misrepresented. Caroline reply in full was: “I feel that this is intrusive. Belief or non belief is individual and private. A public representative should have public views that are inclusive and be able to act impartially. That is what is important”.

Bill Tormey- Fine Gael running in Dublin City (Ballymun).  While Bill was broadly supportive of the Secular Statement he responded: “I disagree with some of the content. I don’t see many religions as benign. There is a massive religious war occurring in the Middle East at present. The status of women is rarely equal in the Abrahamic religions. Best of luck in your efforts. I agree with much of Michael Nugent’s efforts”. We contacted Bill to see if we could meet and discuss the content that he disagreed with but have received no response to date.

The following European candidates have declined to sign the Secular Statement:

Ronan Mullen – Independent running in Midland-North-West. Ronan has declined to sign and issued the following “With regard to the secular statement you sent in, I am afraid I am not in a position to sign it. While there are elements of it which I would support, I cannot support it in its entirety. The period leading up to an election may not be the best time for us to discuss these matters as there is a degree of complexity in the issues raised by the statement. Some of the principles which the statement sets down are insufficiently clear in their thrust, e.g. 2e) does not make clear the role of conscientious objectors on a range of issues. After the election I am sure we can work to achieve some of our common goals. I really look forward to a fruitful and interesting engagement with you”.

Brian Hayes – Fine Gael running in Dublin. Brian provided a statement as follows: “Many thanks for contacting me in relation to Atheism. I, along with my party believes that pluralism and diversity are important in a vibrant democracy. In Government we are working with our colleagues in the Labour Party to give effect to these values. Next year, a referendum will be held giving the Irish people an opportunity to retain or remove the provision which holds that blasphemy is an offence (Article 40.6.1°). In terms of education, Fine Gael is committed to providing parental choice and diversity. Following the Report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector, work is ongoing to give effect to its recommendations. Public consultations have taken place in 43 towns regarding patronage of primary schools. In 28 of these the parents have opted for greater choice of patrons and the Department of Education is engaging with the patrons to find suitable premises for an alternative patron provider. Additionally, patronage of new schools has been awarded to patrons providing for multidenominational schools in a number of areas. Four new Educate Together schools will open in September. In September 2013, the Department of Education launched a public consultation on inclusiveness in primary schools and how best to accommodate students of various belief systems and traditions.  The submissions received, along with the Forum Report findings and recommendations will be considered in the preparation of a White Paper on Patronage this year.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment that “People of non-faith or minority religious backgrounds and publicly identified LGBT people should not be deterred from training or taking up employment as teachers in the state.” In this regard the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) designate has been asked to consider and provide advice in relation to amending Section 37 of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2011. A public consultation has been undertaken, attracting a large volume of submissions.  The Report of the IHREC will be considered by the Minister for Justice and Equality along with otherMembers of the Government will consider its recommendations and bring forward the necessary amendments to the legislation.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me”

We contacted Brian again to seek clarification as to whether he would be willing to sign the Secular Statement and received the following reply:

“Many thanks for your follow up email in relation to support for Atheist Ireland’s Secular Statement. I support your sentiments and agree that pluralism and diversity are essential elements to any state. If elected, I would welcome the change to meet with you and discuss this matter further”

Ashling OBrien

2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    dave kiernan May 11, 2014

    I would like thank and commend all of my colleagues in the Irish Green Party for their very positive support for and endorsement of the Atheist Ireland Secular Statement. re. `Caroline Fitzgerald’ Green Party Candidate in West Mayo, I am sorry for the waffle from this lady, I don’t know her, she must have P.Flynn breathing down her neck.

  2. Avatar
    steve white May 11, 2014

    one presume you replied to FF saying you didn’t ask them to sign a Atheist Statement but a Secular Statement, the hint is in the title

Atheist Ireland