Atheist Ireland seeks wider public consultation about Constitutional Convention
Along with other civil society groups, Atheist Ireland is concerned that the format and agenda for the Government’s proposed Constitutional Convention are too restrictive to bring about comprehensive change. As the Government seems likely to make a decision in the very near future, we have written the following letter to the Taoiseach and Tanaiste.
We understand that the Government will soon be making decisions about the format and agenda of the proposed Constitutional Convention. We are asking you to extend the consultation period before you make these decisions, and to seek input from civil society groups and the wider public.
The Programme for Government says that the Convention will “consider comprehensive constitutional reform” that will help to ensure that “Ireland will be a transformed country”. The Programme for Government also lists seven agenda items for the Convention.
To enable these ambitious outcomes to happen, we are asking you to re-order the items on the proposed agenda, to give maximum priority to Item Seven, which is: “Other relevant constitutional amendments that may be recommended by the Convention.” This change would enable the Convention to focus on the truly comprehensive and transformational changes that are needed to bring about a Constitution that reflects a modern pluralist republic.
From our perspective as an advocacy group for secularism, this would include ensuring that the State does not discriminate for or against any citizen on the basis of their religious or nonreligious philosophical beliefs, enabling atheist and agnostic citizens to become President or a judge or a member of the Council of State, and ensuring that the education system respects the freedom of conscience of all citizens without discrimination.
On the other hand, if Item Seven is treated as the final item on the agenda, to be addressed only after the first six specific issues are dealt with, then it will be impossible for the Convention to achieve the ambitious aims described in the Programme for Government.
We are also asking you to consider removing the blasphemy issue from the agenda of the Convention, and treating it instead as one of the urgent constitutional reforms that you are addressing outside of the Convention. Both Government parties are already committed to removing the blasphemy law, and there is a widespread political, legal and public consensus that we should not have such a law. There is no need to have a Convention discuss this for a year before asking the people to remove this anachronism from our Constitution.
But however you respond to the suggestions about our specific priority areas, our most urgent request is that you extend the consultation period before you make your final decisions, and that you seek input from civil society groups and the wider public.