An open letter to Atheist Ireland by Dick Spicer

Dick Spicer is a longtime activist for humanism and separation of church and state in Ireland. He is also a humanist celebrant, and co-author of ‘The Humanist Philosophy with an Irish Guide to Non-Religious Ceremonies’. Here Dick gives his opinions on the reactions among atheists and humanists to the new Civil Registration Act.

Dear Atheist Ireland members,

It has been a great joy to me and other humanists to see the development in Ireland of a determined Atheist group such as yours. I see it as a really healthy sign for Irish society and its development to have secular groups like AI and the HAI in existence pursuing their respective agendas. Indeed this perspective led me to play a modest role in the formation of both groups and decades before that in the Campaign to Separate Church and State (CSCS).

It pains me doubly therefore to see a degree of confusion emerging which might damage the Irish secular movement as a whole. I am referring here to the pattern of the AI leadership taking issue with the HAI approach to gradual reform and the ‘Open Letter to HAI members’  being circulated by Michael Nugent and others. Michael is a talented representative of the Atheist perspective (as I knew he would be when I suggested him as a likely Chairperson) but his approach sits uneasily, clashes even, with the humanist philosophical perspective as I see it.

However, if it did not – then there would be no logical reason for the separate existence of the two groups?

My expectations were that with the public foundation and existence of an atheist group, an outlet would be given to those secularists of a definite atheist outlook who wished to promote atheism intellectually and politically and garner support accordingly. The role of our Irish humanist group with it’s moderate philosophy and provision of services to those non-religious who require them  is obviously somewhat different. A degree of overlap is to be expected of course as humanists look for secular advance in society but the humanist perspective in general could be expected to be a more encompassing less militantly anti-religious one.

The logic of promoting an atheist group is that one can have a more hard- hitting, focused political pressure group alongside the more service orientated humanist group and no one would deny that under Michael’s leadership AI has functioned thus. The HAI over many years, has developed its services to the non-religious community,  (indeed requests for such were the impelling factor in its formation) whilst supporting changes in society which benefit that community.

The damaging confusion I see emerging is that AI seems to be seeking to influence the HAI to become a mirror image of itself – i.e. to become a militant political pressure group. By directly intervening  as chair of the AI and challenging the HAI to change its perspective Michael is destroying the logic of having two separate groups with differing approaches, agendas and philosophies. He is leading others who might have joint membership of both groups in the same direction and I am saddened by the degree of hostility this is engendering and I hereby appeal to Michael (as one committed to ‘dialogue’) to reconsider his intervention before more serious damage is done.

I think this does necessarily raise the issue of the advisability of people having joint membership of both groups as the natural tendency (without implying any malice) of this practice is a drift towards a common program which will alienate many. I appeal to those whose commitment is primarily to AI and its political approach to not pursue their agenda within the HAI on the issue of the reforming of legal solemnisation of marriage (and there will probably in the nature of such things be other issues in the future).

It would be far healthier for both groups continued existence and amity if those with joint membership made their choice of group commitment and wished the others well for the future. That way the non-religious community who both groups exist to serve (from differing perspectives) will continue to have two strings to their bow and draw in support from those who who would balk at the purely AI approach on the one hand or the HAI on the other!

Dick Spicer

Atheist Ireland


  1. Avatar
    steve white April 26, 2013

    he doesn’t address the issues with the Civil Registration Act at all.

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    Rogier van Vugt April 26, 2013

    This is an extraordinary cowardly letter.
    No mention is made at all about what this is about. I had to google a bit and found out the HAI (Humanist Association Ireland) can now officiate marriages, but to do that they had to sign they are not a political pressure group.
    That is a sell-out mentality. They want to have the goods, even though they have to grovel to get it. It demonstrates perfectly why I dislike humanist organizations.
    Now I could have some sympathy for this. There are people that want to get married, and if this is the way to do that outside of the evil empire (aka catholic church), then yes, you need a group to do that.
    I would personally have made a shell organisation to do that and not defang a community that surely must have people opposing this step.
    On the other hand I might have put this up for a vote. Let the members decide if they want to:
    – Sign and cease to be an organisation that influences political thought.
    – Not sign to retain the semblance of significance.
    – (my favourite) Sign and double down on political action. Let the government take the next step in trying to revoke these rights (while steering clear of the EU courts!).

    But apparently the ruling body of the HAI made their own deal behind closed doors and without consulting their constituency. And then, when the allies they abandoned (AI) informed that constituency Dick here tries to claim that any internal discussion is the fault of AI?
    Almost impossible to top that much cowardice.

    Oh wait:

    The damaging confusion I see emerging is that AI seems to be seeking to influence the HAI to become a mirror image of itself – i.e. to become a militant political pressure group.

    See the insertion of the word militant there?
    It was possible to top that much cowardice.

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    Patrick O'Driscoll April 26, 2013

    I’ve been a long time member of HAI , though regrettably , an inactive one . I’m not interested in the internal politics of the HAI , but I DO admire celebrants and other active members , like Dick Spicer . I’ve also long had a liking for AI , though I’ve never come around to applying for membership . I’m deeply disappointed and dismayed to see this , largely unnecessary controversy shaking the HAI . Any advance towards official recognition of the rights of non-religious in Ireland , has to be , in my old eyes , a “good thing”. Yes , those opposing the board of the HAI have legitimate grievances and objections to the acceptance of “crumbs” from the government , but let’s not cause a split in our otherwise great association ! Now , more than ever , solidarity is absolutely necessary !
    Patrick Niall O’Driscoll.

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    Derek Merren April 26, 2013

    An open letter is by definition a courageous act. It is there for all to see. It is there for everyone to comment on and judge for themselves.

    I’m getting married later this year and hope to have one ceremony with a humanist celebrant. This would not even be a possibility without people like Dick Spicer who have been performing humanist ceremonies for the last 20 years.

    So before you imply that someone is a coward stop and take a breath and think about all they have achieved.

    Yes there is an issue with the act. But something is better than nothing and over the years legislation can be changed. A stepping stone to something better.

    Also what is wrong with being called a militant atheist. Richard Dawkins is himself proud of that label. We need people like him raising awareness and getting ideas out there. But everyone can’t be like that. Some people just want to get on with their lives without constantly battling and that is OK too. You may call me a coward and to be honest I’m ok with that. It’s just another label and just because you may use it doesn’t make it a fact.

    That’s my two cents. Take it or leave it.

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    Sheena Walsh April 26, 2013

    As a recent member of both HAI and AI, I am also dismayed by the tug of war going on. Yes the HAI should hold an EGM to discuss matters and vote on how to proceed, even if it means making a slight change to their manifesto. I’d be quite comfortable with them solemnising marriages and taking on a more social role in spreading secularist ideals. At the same time AI can focus on the political lobbying. I admire both organisations, and believe there’s room for a two pronged approach to promoting secularism – thats why I joined both organisations. I don’t see why now I should be asked to “pick a side”. Both sides sending out unsolicited emails and letters to members is inflammatory, divisive and raises some questions about data protection. Please stop the internal bickering, because as an ordinary member, I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of a schoolyard brawl.

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    Jane Donnelly April 26, 2013

    I think Dick Spicer has missed the point or I should say lost the plot. I suppose we should not be surprised as he supports the identifying and segregation of children in the New VEC Community schools on religious grounds. He had no issue with going against HAI policy on that point and there was no lasting deep rift when a meeting of members was held to discuss that issue.

    I don’t recall anyone claiming to bow out of that debate because the role of the Irish Humanist group with “it’s moderate philosophy and provision of services to those non-religious who require them is obviously somewhat different that the role of Atheist Ireland”. Dick Spicer then went on the Religious Reference Group as a private member who opposes HAI policy. In relation to this latest debate he now thinks that those with joint membership of AI and the HAI should made their choice of group commitment and wished the others well for the future.

    I must say it is one of the most patronising articles I have ever read. Does the man believe that Atheist Ireland is all about him.

    This has nothing to do with how Atheist Ireland was set up. To bring that into the debate it is simply a red herring and an excuse not to deal with what is wrong with the Civil Registration Act.

    The Civil Registration Act is religious discrimination at its best and it is beyond me how any secularist could support it. As the UN puts it “non-discrimination, together with equality before the law and equal protection of the law without any discrimination, constitute a basic and general principle relating to the protection of human rights”.

    What is militant about a basic human rights principle?

    What is militant about objecting to a law which undermines a basic human rights principle?

    What is militant about seeking a discussion on a law that undermines basic human rights?

    The Dail ratified the UN Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. By doing so they undertook to ensure that all individuals were treated equally before the law without religious discrimination. The Civil Registration Act breaches Article 26 and Article 2 of this UN Covenant. Equality before the law and freedom from discrimination are human rights.

    “Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

    These are the same human rights that the HAI are seeking in the education system. They are the same human rights that the HAI is seeking when it to campaigns to amend the Constitution to remove religious oaths.

    Dick Spicer then appeals to those “whose commitment is primarily to AI and its political approach to not pursue their agenda within the HAI on the issue of the reforming of legal solemnisation of marriage (and there will probably in the nature of such things be other issues in the future).”

    In principle this is not about the legal solemnisation of marriages but it is about human rights (equality and non-discrimination). I feel I must point out (it seems a ridiculous thing to point out), secularists don’t believe in religious discrimination.

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    Derek Merren April 26, 2013

    Hi Jane,

    What do you want to happen? Would you prefer it if I have to get married twice? It’s a simple question.

    Nobody is stopping you from campaigning against religious discrimination. I support you but I want to know what secular organisation is going to legally solemnise my marriage if the HAI decides to reject the bill? We are not really spoiled for choice in that regard.

    I think it is religious discrimination if I can’t get married once by a secular organisation. Would you prefer it if I went back to the church cap in hand and went through the charade of a religious wedding?

    You are correct. The bill is not perfect, but it is a start.

    Those who do not bend will break. The law can change down the road to make it more equitable. I will support you in your endeavour to make that happen. Please support me in my possibly selfish endeavour to get married once in an non religious way of my own choosing.

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    Jane Donnelly April 26, 2013


    I’m not immune to the predicament that many people find themselves in. I would really like to see the Humanists solemnise legal marriages. However let me quote to you the Civil Registration Amendment Act.

    “45A (1) For the purposes of this Part, a body shall, subject to subsection (2), be a secular body if it is an organised group of people and –

    (2) None of the following is a secular body for the purposes of this Part:

    (b) a body that promotes a political cause;”

    One of the aims of the HAI is to promote equality and non-discrimination which is a basic principle of secularism. Equality and non-discrimination are basic principles in human rights.

    This piece of legislation is a reflection of our Constitution which privileges the religious at the expense of the human rights of secularists.

    Is the Separation of Church and State not a political cause? How can the HAI challenge this if it does not promote a political cause? The word is ‘promote’.

    On that basis it is not a first step but a full stop as how can the HAI challenge the Civil Registration Act if it does not promote a political cause. Trying to change all the laws in Ireland that privilege the religious at the expense of the rights of secularists is seeking to separate of church and state. That is a political cause. The particular UN Treaty that I referred to is called the UN Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. Should the members not discuss this issue in detail.

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    Derek Merren April 26, 2013

    Hi Jane,

    I can see by your reply that you are better informed on this issue than I am. I understand the point you are making. If the HAI solemnise marriages they can’t agitate for political change. I get it.

    I take it that you advocate the wholesale rejection of the bill and the continuation of the status quo for the foreseeable future until such time as the law is changed. Is this your position?

    If this is you position where does that leave me and the hundreds of other non religious couples who don’t want a religious wedding or a registry office wedding? I will answer that question from my point of view. It leaves us precisely nowhere.

    My position is that the HAI should accept the bill for the time being and do what a large proportion of the population want them to do which is legally solemnise weddings. The alternative is to wait an indeterminate amount of time for a change in the law. It took 20 years to get this far. Another 20 years is too long to wait for me.

    Best Regards,

    • Avatar
      Lothar Luken June 23, 2013

      Hi Derek
      When I got married we went to the Registry Office and later had a great ceremony of our own devising, involving lots of friends. But we did the ‘solemnising’ ourselves – because no outside agency, whether state or religion or HAI could meaningfully do that. I couldn’t imagine for the life of me how the presence of a, say, Dick Spicer, would make any bond stronger…
      Having said that, of course, one should ask: why do we need a ritual which in effect apes a religious one? Why not stand there, strong and happy, infront of one’s family and friends and just declare: look, folks, we are a couple now and want to go thru life together now. Simple, true, moving.

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    Dermot Donnelly April 26, 2013

    If you are engaged in a debate on any matter I think it necessary and ethical to declare if you have any financial interest in the outcome of the debate.

    Surely anyone who is advocating support of the Civil Registration Amendment Act should declare if they have a financial interest in solemnising marriages!

    How many people on the board of HAI are solemnisers and thus have a financial interest in solemnising marriages?

    This is not to suggest that anyone who gains financially from solemnising marriages shouldn’t have a say in the debate or that there is anything wrong in getting paid for providing a service but it is essential that there is full disclosure of interests.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair

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    Andrew D.Rattigan April 26, 2013

    Hi Derek,

    I understand your predicament, but I disagree with you in that the HAI doesnt advertise itself as an organisation that seeks only to be allowed to carry out legal wedding ceremonies. The HAI advertises and invites new people to join by stating that we exist to end discrimination and to campaign for equality. I joined and many other members did also because the HAI including many people on the current board have done a lot to campaign against discrimination against the non religious and for equal treatment of the non-religious. These are our declared aims on our website. I just dont see how you can campaign against discrimination by endorsing it? The HAI doesnt proclaim to exist merely to be allowed to carry out legal non-religious wedding ceremonies even if doing so conflicts with the principle of being opposed to discrimination. If it did so I wouldnt have joined. I dont think there is anything wrong with the board allowing and facilitating a wider discussion with its members and accommodating dissenting voices. Discussion, debate and courteous disagreement are all healthy within an organisation. From having talked to other members I feel the board have tried to quell any open discussion on what is a contentious issue for many members of the HAI.

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    Derek Merren April 26, 2013

    Hi Andrew,

    You make a very valid point. I am all for discussion, debate and courteous disagreement. This is what I am doing here. I have given my opinion.

    I am not a member of AI or HAI and frankly from what I have read today I’m not sure if I really want to be a member of either. I simply want to get married legally by non religious non HSE celebrant. HAI are the only game in town as far as I’m concerned. There are many people who share my point of view who also a member of neither organisation and have no intention of joining either organisation. Do people like me matter in the debate? I would like to think so.

    Do what you will but remember that the HAI has the opportunity to expand it’s visibility in the wider community by providing this service to people like me. This could be a powerful be a way of expanding awareness of the humanist organisation and philosophy. It’s just a thought from an interested bystander.

    I’ve given more than my two cents today. Make of it what you will.

    Best Regards,

  13. Avatar
    David Thomas April 27, 2013

    I understand the desire to be married by the person of your choosing, however with the availability of civil registrars it is possible to have non-religious wedding ceremonies. I was married by a civil registrar in the UK, essentially a civil servant and it was a dignified and moving ceremony so I am disappointed to see HAI abandon it’s campaigning status (or perhaps they just intend to sacrifice their credibility) simply to facilitate personal choice, rather than to further the rights of people who hold non-religious views

  14. Avatar
    Derek Merren April 27, 2013

    Hi David,

    Yes it is true that I could get married by a HSE employee. Unfortunately I am getting married on a Saturday and HSE employees don’t work on Saturdays.

    I would also add that my partner and I don’t have an affinity for the beliefs and philosophy of the Health Service Executive whereas we do have an affinity to the philosophy of humanism.

    Best Regards,

  15. Avatar
    Emma Sides April 27, 2013

    I would like to address a few of the points raised in the various emails above:
    First of all I totally support Dick Spicer’s point of view (and in the interests of full disclosure I have known Dick for many years and my mother is the other author of ‘The Humanist Philosophy with an Irish Guide to Non-Religious Ceremonies’). But I would have no problem whatsoever disagreeing with him. I don’t believe what he wrote is ‘cowardly’. I think he makes a lot of excellent points.

    Secondly, I am one of the HAI celebrants. I’ve been marrying people since 2009 and I absolutely love what I do. I take huge pride in providing couples with a real and honest meaningful alternative to a church wedding. Believe it or not I have no vested financial interest in this debate: I already do as many (non-legal) ceremonies in a year as I can do. I will continue to do ceremonies regardless of the outcome of this debate and if we do become solemnisers we won’t be charging any extra.

    As Derek Merren has argued I genuinely believe that ceremonies (and this is not just about weddings, we do funerals and baby namings also) are a very powerful way of spreading the message about humanism and how it’s possible to have meaningful non-religious celebration of the major events in our lives. I will reach about 3000 people this year. That’s 3000 people who will go away with a hopefully overwhelmingly positive impression of a non-religious ceremony and who will communicate that impression to yet more people. The HAI caters to the broadly non-religious as well as those who may be very definite in their beliefs. Being able to solemnise marriages would be a very powerful statement and normalises non-religious weddings in a way that simply being married in the registry office does not. A registry office wedding here in Ireland offers very little in the way of flexibility or individuality whereas a Humanist wedding is totally individual. We put a huge amount of effort into each wedding and none of them are the same. We also marry people on the weekends and in the venues of their choice. We meet with them and discuss all the practical aspects as well as the philosophical ones. We give every couple whatever help they need in planning their ceremony. This is a huge amount more than the registrars are able to do.

    And finally to answer Andrew:
    I took the minutes of the Board meetings for about 2 years. I observed their workings first hand. The ‘Board’ are a group of ordinary people. They are not the ivory tower dictators they are being made out to be. In terms of Andrew’s email requesting an EGM – the board are also grass roots members of the HAI. They just happen to be members who are prepared to put in huge amounts of work. They would give their right arms for permanent sub-committees and volunteers and paid administrators and new board members etc, as outlined in the HAI reform group’s website. Trust me, they have not just been greedily keeping all the work to themselves! How to recruit volunteers etc was a feature of more than one board meeting but it always ended in frustration because very few people are prepared to volunteer. I’m delighted that Peter and Aaron have such great plans for the HAI (seriously, I’m not trying to be sarcastic here) but I know first hand how much work any one of their genuinely interesting proposals involves. Who exactly is going to do all the work? For instance there is a suggestion that the newsletter should be fortnightly. It’s a massive struggle to get content for the newsletters from HAI members. Always has been. Same re organising speakers for Sunday meetings. It doesn’t just happen. The Summer School takes a huge amount of work also so conferences etc aren’t just going to magically appear out of thin air. Peter, Aaron and Kevin also make it sound like there are hundreds of frustrated volunteers out there, all chomping at the bit to get involved. I’m just wondering where they’ve all been up until now? And I fully include myself in this – I did my bit of volunteering but I was quite happy for an excuse to bow out.

    Emma Sides

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    Maureen Meleady April 28, 2013

    I do not warm to Dick Spicer’s suggestion that people who are members of both the HAI and AI should choose between the two. I enjoy my membership of these two organisations and object to being presented with an either/or scenario.

    The term ‘militant’ also bothers me – I believe it is flung about too glibly when anything to do with atheism is on the agenda. Its use as a metaphor is distasteful, to say the least, when we witness the way militant ideologies operate in the real world.

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    Jason Spratt April 28, 2013

    I’m looking at this from the outside to some degree, I’m a former HAI and current Atheist Ireland member but I’m living outside Ireland and will be for the foreseeable future.

    It seems to me that if the HAI want to support and accept the current law they have two choices, either they become an organisation that only conducts ceremonies and leaves the campaigning role to Atheist Ireland, or, they reorganise the HAI into two separate legal entities one that provides ceremonies and one that continues the campaign for a more secular Ireland. This would seem to be necessary in order for them to comply with the law.

    Ceremonies are important to many HAI members, and non-members, and the organisation provides a needed service. The demand for the service will likely increase if celebrants can carry out legal wedding ceremonies which will impose extra work on the HAI and may lead to a need to recruit new celebrants for example. As others have mentioned above the committee is already over stretched and it may well make sense for this work to take place in a separate organisation which has a single focus.

    The HAI has also struggled to be more than a purely Dublin based organisation so this might be the time to look at working more closely with the Mid-west, Cork, and Galway Humanist groups to form a new national Humanist Association with the current HAI acting as the Dublin branch. This might also help to spread the workload and make the group more welcoming to new members.

    I agree with Dick Spicer that there is space for a more accommodationist campaigning group as well as Atheist Ireland, although it’s a pity he chose to use the term militant, but for the HAI to continue to fulfil that role it will have to reorganise itself or break this new law. I disagree that people should have to pick sides and only remain members of one organisation or the other. I can understand that he may be concerned with some sort of entryism on the part of Atheist Ireland members but I really don’t think that will happen.

    Perhaps the HAI committee can communicate either publicly or to its members what it intends to do in relation to the practical aspects of the new law?

  18. Avatar
    Billy Hutchinson April 29, 2013

    I would like to give my wholehearted 100% agreement and support to all that Dick has to say. I do not see it as cowardly in any way shape or form. I don’t even understand how it could be viewed as cowardly at all? That simply doesn’t make sense to me.

    I see Dick’s letter as honest and rational. Not like my emotional outbursts in response to Andrew D.Rattigan’s open letter, which perhaps were a little hot headed, and I regret some of the language I used. But they came from a place of high emotion for me. I’ve being with the Humanist association since ’95, and have worked hard volunteering at very many different levels within it since ‘98. Therefore, I feel most hurt when I sense it’s under assault, and find it hard to temper my emotions.

    Apart from a truck load of work I did during my tenure, I was also on the board for many years, and as Emma states, all we ever meant was to do well. We always tried to do our best. We’ve only ever being volunteers, struggling to tackle a mountain of work without very many hands. We’ve always tried to get volunteers to help us and that’s always being a challenge. Newcomers always have great ideas and wonder why we can’t implement them, or why we take so long. It’s because it’s hard work to do some of those things with not many hands. But more than this, it’s the Humanist way. Slow, deliberate, steady, almost gentle. But we get there step by step. I’ve heard that some say Humanism is a very wooly philosophy. Well I for one would much prefer to fall onto a bed of wool.

    In the early days I also wanted the association to be more aggressive and militant and move faster. And I got very frustrated at the slow progress. But I’ve grown to really enjoy the pace. It works for me, the approach we have. I have really discovered this from doing Humanist ceremonies of namings, marriages and funerals. People see that we are reasonable, and respectful of differing belief systems. I frequently get people telling me, at these ceremonies, that they are delighted to have discovered Humanism. Some parents of couples who are religious, are most happy to have their son or daughter have a celebrant that fully respects their beliefs, because at first they were afraid it would be an anti-religious ceremony. It is most rewarding to get this ‘change of heart’.

    I believe another misconception is that the board of the HAI are trying to ‘quell open discussion’ on the issue of civil marraiges. The HAI have campaigned for ten years for the right to solemnise and they have won it, and are acting on it. I firmly believe they are not quelling discussion. I know most of the board quite well, and I know they are not obstructive, but positive.

    A further misconception is that celebrants have a vested interest in becoming solemnisers. Nothing is futher from the truth. The solemnising aspect of our ceremonies is free. Even if we wanted to charge for it we couldn’t. Helping couples have a Humanist wedding requires much work and time, and for that we have to charge something or we simply couldn’t carry them out. But there’s no extra fee for solemnising.

    For those that will say our financial gain is that we’ll get more enquiries. Yes, it is most likely that being able to solemnise marriages will attract more enquiries, in fact that already began in January, with very many couples hanging on in hope for us to be able to solemnise their marriage. However, all celebrants have a personal limit to how many ceremonies they are willing to do, and almost all of us are already at our maximum limits. Some do very few per year, others do more. Most have their own separate careers to deal with. But unlike other groups out there that can currently solemnise under the religious banner, we only ever do one wedding ceremony on any one day. So the ‘vested interest’ is null and void.

    To be able to help couples have the only secular choice available to them is the most wonderful thing we can offer, and I firmly believe that to turn it down just to get the perfect bill, is not wise thinking. I much prefer to work with what we have and in tandem to seek for an improvement of the bill as time passes. And with hundreds upon hundreds of legal Humanist marriages under our belt, I believe we will be listened to more, than if we reject this outright and are left out in the cold, again.

    Jane’s points about human rights are all very well and honourable, but there are also the rights of those thousands of couples out there that deserve and have the human right to a full and complete non-religious ceremony.

    Finally, in relation to Dick’s suggestion for those to make a choice of group commitment, I choose to make mine now. Since my membership of AI is due for renewal in early May, I now choose not to renew my membership. I no longer feel the AI is the place for my aims and goals as a non-religious person. If the membership sectretary of AI wishes, they are welcome to cease my AI membership immediately, that is no problem to me.

    I wish you all well.
    Billy Hutchinson

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    Andrew D.Rattigan April 30, 2013

    Hi Billy, I agree that Dick’s letter is not cowardly, he is just expressing his view. However, I disagree with most of it.

    Billy it is only the solemnising aspect that is free. There is a charge for the rest of the ceremony and it is not limited to covering expenses. Therefore if a profit is made by a celebrant, and if a celebrant is making a significant portion of their income from conducting ceremonies then a vested interest may occur. If a celebrant is a member of the board and they are making a regular income from ceremonies then again a conflict of interest emerges. These are issues that I feel need to be resolved.

    Also it will not be possible to lobby to change the law that you admit is imperfect because the new law states that any secular body that conducts marriages can not promote a political cause. Seeking to amend legislation by influencing the political process is promoting a political cause which the new law prohibits. And before any one states it is a ‘social cause’, that doesnt exclude the fact that it is also a political cause. Any cause where you have to use the political process to bring about change is also a political cause.

    It seems that for many members they are just happy if the HAI is able to conduct ceremonies even if in doing so they have to embrace and endorse unequal legislation and again the HAI states it is opposed to this. Therefore we are not being true to our declared principles. Humanism for many of the members of the HAI is about a lot more than being able to get married by a Humanist celebrant. It is about working towards and campaigning for equality and actively fighting against discrimination not endorsing it so that some members of the public who are not involved in promoting a secular state can have a pleasant wedding celebaration. Humanism for many of us goes hand in hand with secularism and the advancement of the secular cause. This legislation is anti-secular, discriminatory and entrenches religious privileges all of which the HAI states it campaigns against. How can you campaign against something you endorse?

    Finally. whilst Humanists respect other people’s rights to believe in and practice whatever superstitious beliefs they adhere to, many of us have no respect for the beliefs themselves. For many of us, whilst respecting the rights of others to their freedom of conscience and expression, are very openly disrespectful and hostile to beliefs that underpin misogyny and homophobia. These belief systems that you say you respect are the reason that we are having to fight for our rights as non-religious people. It seems to me that the HAI instead of fighting are happy to have a few discriminatory crumbs thrown from the table.

  20. Avatar
    Derek Merren May 01, 2013

    Hi Andrew,

    I respectfully disagree with you. You essentially don’t care about by predicament which is that I can’t have a legally solemnised secular wedding. That’s fair enough. I respect that.

    I have been an atheist since I was a child. It was a realisation I came to more or less independently down to my interest in palaeontology. I have been ridiculed in my VEC school by a religion teacher. I have been bullied into changing my religion on a form from atheist to catholic by my year head. I’ve got into countless arguments on the subject with various people.

    I studied science in college and nearly all my friends from that time are atheists. None of them are members of Atheist Ireland or the Humanist Association of Ireland. In fact when I tell them about AI and HAI they haven’t even heard about them. You don’t seem interested in people like me or my friends who are “members of the public who are not involved in promoting a secular state”. Well with people with opinions like that I am not surprised that me or my friends have little knowledge of AI or HAI.

    I’m hesitant to say it but what I see as an outsider looking in is a ghettoised, parochial argument from people who have no interest in reaching out to “members of the public who are not involved in promoting a secular state”. It may sound harsh but based on what I have read over the past few days that is my honest opinion.

    When I read Dick Spicer’s letter or Billy Hutchinson’s thoughtful considered reply I feel that the HAI is something I can be a part of. An inclusive organisation that cares deeply about serving the wider community and not just the select group who have paid their twenty euro for membership.

    As for your argument about celebrants being paid I think that it is absolutely ridiculous. When is the last time a Catholic priest did a wedding without being paid or a HSE employee or a Spiritualist. I would argue that the celebrants have more of a right to argue their case because they have been reaching out to “members of the public who are not involved in promoting a secular state” for many years. And if we are being honest that this is the real way to change hearts and minds.

    I would like to add that the person or persons who changed the bill at the last minute are probably laughing hysterically at this argument. Perhaps rather than attacking the HAI’s position you should be redoubling your efforts under the banner of AI and take a case to Europe or something useful like that while letting the HAI continue to do what it has being doing for the past 20 years.

    This link more or less sums up my feelings on this argument –>

    Best Regards from a member of the public who is not involved in promoting a secular state,
    Derek Merren

    • Avatar
      Derek Walsh May 01, 2013


      You say: ‘You don’t seem interested in people like me or my friends who are “members of the public who are not involved in promoting a secular state””

      Nothing could be further from the truth. It is people promoting and fighting for a secular state that have allowed you to have a legally solemnised secular wedding (albeit with discriminatory caveats). It is people promoting and fighting for a secular state who are doing their best to ensure that your children will not face the discrimination you faced in school, that your tax money will not go to promoting someone else’s religion, that your wife will get the best medical care when pregnant, and so on.
      And you don’t have to get involved in the fight. The benefits when they arrive will be available equally to everyone. But it’s a little galling that you tell us we should stop fighting because for now you have all the rights you need.

      • Avatar
        Derek Merren May 01, 2013

        Hi Derek,

        I am not saying stop fighting for a secular state. I am not saying that at all. What I am trying to say and maybe I didn’t make it clear enough is that you should stop fighting each other.

        I am sorry if I wasn’t clear enough. I did not mean to demean or insult your efforts which I wholeheartedly support.

        I suppose my central point is that there are more ways to promote a secular state than just political activism and performing these ceremonies is one of these ways.

        The bill as it was passed was clearly intended to be divisive. It is the law now. There is an opportunity to promote and expand the humanist philosophy to the wider community. I think this is an enormously valuable opportunity that should be grasped.

        I would suggest that those who have the energy and conviction to continue the political fight do so under the banner of AI. For what it is worth I will even join both organisations if it helps. I actually joined HAI today and will join AI later today and put my money where my mouth is so to speak.

        I hope this clarifies my position.

        Best Regards,

        • Avatar
          Billy Hutchinson May 01, 2013

          Hi Derek (Merren)

          Thank you for all your support, and I agree with what you have said. And I completely understand how you feel about how you see our associations, I would too in your shoes. I find I am tremendously saddened by what seems to me, a blatant and unreasonable assault on the HAI. Bad day for reason.

          Kind regards

          • Avatar
            Andrew D.Rattigan May 01, 2013

            With all due respect Billy,

            This is not an assault on the HAI it is just an internal disagreement over policy. There are quite a few members including ex-board members who feel this issue needs to be debated. Yes, there are some heated feelings arising, particularly on the side of those in favour of endorsing discriminatory legislation, but this doesn’t mean people have to take it personally. Dissent within an y organisation is a common occurrence . As long as we can disagree without getting personal and conduct our disputes in a diplomatic manner that is consistent with the democratic mechanisms that govern the HAI then personally I dont think there is anything to lament. At the end of the day free-thinking and dissent should be expected from Humanists. It is these characteristics that led to most of us rejecting religion. At the end of the day whether we are for or against this legislation we are all humanists and we all want a secular state. We may just differ on how we get there. Debate, dissent, discussion all the hallmarks of healthy democratic organisations.

  21. Avatar
    Derek Merren May 01, 2013


    I wonder if someone could please help me with the process of joining Atheist Ireland. When I click on this link –>

    I see a “Join now” button but when I click on it nothing happens. Could someone please assist me or point me in the direction of an alternative method of joining Atheist Ireland.

    Best Regards,

    • Avatar
      Andrew D.Rattigan May 01, 2013

      Hi Derek,

      There seems to be something wrong with that link.

      Ill ask Michael about it and get back to you.

      • Avatar
        Derek Merren May 01, 2013

        Thanks Andrew, much appreciated.

  22. Avatar
    Andrew D.Rattigan May 02, 2013

    Hi Derek,

    Michael Nugent says that AI is aware of the problem and it will be fixed. Perhaps send Michael a message on FB and ask if there is another way to join. I know I posted a cheque to join but the address I think was on the broken link. It should be sorted soon though.

    • Avatar
      Derek Merren May 02, 2013

      Hi Andrew,

      Will do. Thanks for looking into it for me.

      Best Regards,

  23. Avatar
    Jeanne Rathbone May 05, 2013

    I have been following the debate over this thorny question of humanist celebrants been recognised as registrars on par with priests/clergy and the inherently contradictory conditions imposed by the Irish government.
    I have been a humanist celebrant for the past 17 years for the British Humanist Association. We also have been fighting to gain recognition as registrars for weddings/civil partnerships which was given to our Scottish colleagues. Having conducted many weddings abroad, especially, in France, where all couples have to be legally married by the Mayor I now conclude that this is what should happen. I now think that the legal process should be separated from the ceremonial part and the privileges now afforded to religious/supernaturalists be removed. I became a humanist celebrant to help people have a ceremony- funeral/naming/wedding – that accorded with their non-religious/humanist values and beliefs. I do not want to be a government official/registrar.
    After hearing all the nonsense around what constitutes marriage, especially from the religious I have concluded that all sexual legal unions should be civil partnerships .
    A legal marriage/civil partnership is a legal process and really is not much different to signing up for a joint mortgage and should be kept separate from a ceremony according to one’s beliefs and values and be free to be held anywhere at anytime. There will always be constraints if it is tied up with a legal/state process. Currently, the British Humanist Association negotiations with the government include the concern that we often hold our ceremonies out of doors, early in the morning etc.
    I no longer am listed as wedding only celebrant but I my speciality is a 2 in 1 Wedding and baby naming combined ceremony which I promote as the inexpensive hassle free wedding for modern couples! These are very popular as it suits many couples who do not want an extravagant and very expensive wedding. Couples can chose to have their wedding legalised quietly during the week if they wish and many couples do.
    It will be interesting to see how this pans out for Humanist celebrants. It does seem like the amended marriage law to include secular celebrants that excludes them being part of (b) a body that promotes a political cause;” is a contradiction for Humanist celebrants. The law as it stands IS an ass. The muddle seems like another Irish solution to an Irish problem. ( One is reminded of a previous compromise when the 26 county statelet was inaugurated!)
    Perhaps the solution is for Humanist wedding celebrants to set up as a separate, ad hoc organisation which would not compromise the Humanist Association of Ireland. Within the BHA we have Humanist ceremonies as a separate entity for accounting/marketing/organisational purpose.

    I shall be watching this space.

    Jeanne Rathbone