Update: Green Party election candidates respond positively to Atheist Ireland's Secular Statement
Update on Sunday 27 April:
Several Green Party local election candidates have now indicated that they support the principles in the Secular Statement, and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has contacted our Dublin Region chairperson Ashling O’Brien to say that their European Election candidates had already agreed to sign a supportive statement. We’ll publish more details on this soon.
Original article published on Friday 25 April:
Green Party election candidates “do not want to be seen to be associated with atheists”
The Green Party local election candidates in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown have declined to sign a statement supporting secular values because they do not want to be seen to be associated with atheists, and the Green party leader Eamon Ryan has failed to reply to three requests from Atheist Ireland to clarify the Green Party’s position.
It is important to note that Atheist Ireland did not ask the candidates to support atheism, or to make any comment on their personal religious or philosophical beliefs. We asked them to support the principle that the State should be neutral between religion and atheism, while respecting the right of any citizen to freedom of religion or belief while not infringing on the rights of other citizens, and they declined to do this.
Ashling O’Brien, Chairperson of Atheist Ireland’s Dublin Regional Group, reports:
As part of our campaign to highlight secular issues Atheist Ireland is approaching candidates who are running in both the local and European elections with a Secular Statement.
The statement, which is adapted from the Dublin Declaration adopted at the World Atheist Convention in 2011, outlines Atheist Ireland’s position on the separation of church and state. Atheist Ireland are asking the candidates to sign the statement to show their support for secular issues.
The Secular Statement was emailed to the Green Party candidates in the Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown area and was placed on the agenda for discussion at a meeting on Tuesday 8th April. Present at this meeting was Celine Moorkins and Ossian Smyth. Cara Augustenburg was not present, but was aware that the Secular Statement was on the agenda for discussion.
We have been informed that, at the meeting, while in principle the candidates supported the points raised in the Secular Statement, they decided that they would not agree to sign it as they did not think it was a good (political?) decision to be seen to be associated with atheists.
Naturally, when I received this news I emailed the Green Party Leader and European MEP candidate Eamon Ryan to seek clarification on this issue. Below is the email which was sent on 11th April.
My name is Ashling O’Brien and I am a representative of Atheist Ireland. Atheist Ireland is an Irish advocacy group. We promote atheism and reason over superstition and supernaturalism, and we promote an ethical, secular society. We are participants in the dialogue process between the Government and religious and philosophical bodies. We participate in events organised by international bodies such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. We work with other advocacy groups who are seeking to bring about an ethical society. You can read details of our policies on our website at http://atheist.ie.
Recently Atheist Ireland has begun approaching candidates for the upcoming local and European elections to ask them for their support. We are presenting candidates with a Secular Statement and asking them to consider putting their names to it as a way of demonstrating their support. We will inform the members of Atheist Ireland which candidates are supportive of our aims and goals. Please find attached a copy of the statement.
A member of Atheist Ireland, who is also a long-standing and active member of the Green Party offered to approach the three candidates who are running in the Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown area on our behalf. The candidates had a meeting on the evening of Tuesday 8th April and the Secular Statement was discussed. The feedback I have received following this meeting has given me great cause for concern and so I am seeking clarification from you on this matter.
I was informed that, while all the candidates who were present and the others at the meeting agreed in principle with the points outlined in the Secular Statement, a decision was made not to sign it. The reason given to me for this was that there was concern expressed at the fact that this was coming from Atheist Ireland and there was a fear of being seen to be associated with atheists. Understandably this has raised concerns.
The non-religious are now the second largest ‘belief’ group in Ireland. The latest figures estimate that 6.2% of Irish people now class themselves as unaffiliated with any religion (http://www.pewforum.org/files/2014/04/Religious-Diversity-full-report.pdf). Indeed, this may be a conservative estimate as many atheists, particularly teachers and health workers, are reluctant to ‘come out’ as, under Section 37 of the Employment Act they can be fired from their employment if their employer has a ‘religious ethos’.
The children of atheist and secular parents face daily discrimination due to a lack of choice in schools and difficulties in opting out of religious indoctrination. Children of atheists and secularists are regularly prevented from enrolling in their local school because they are non-religious. Here in Ireland atheists have been described as ‘not fully human’.
If this discrimination was to happen to any other group in Irish society it would make front page news, but because discrimination against the non-religious is so ingrained in Irish culture it is hardly noticed. This situation is not helped if the political parties, who should be the vanguard of challenging all forms of discrimination, show a reluctance to engage with atheists or to acknowledge their concerns due to some misplaced fear of either Atheists themselves or of political repercussions. The fact is that atheists do not form a homogenous group; we come from a wide variety of social, economic, cultural, educational and political backgrounds. We are active members of society of all ages and from all walks of life.
I would be eager to allay any misguided fears which your party members may have about becoming ‘aligned with atheists’. I found this reaction from the Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown candidates to be quite surprising as the Chairperson of the Cavan/Monaghan branch of Atheist Ireland, John Hamill, had previously approached Mark Dearey with the same statement and he had indicated that he would be happy to sign it. Understandably, I would be most eager to meet with yourself or another representative of the Green Party to discuss this further so that we can reach an agreement on this issue.
I followed this email up with two further inquiries on 17th and 21st of April. I have yet to receive a reply or an acknowledgement.
If you feel that this treatment of the non-religious is unacceptable, please contact Eamon Ryan at email@example.com or on twitter at @EamonRyan.
As stated above, I was not present at the meeting where this issue was discussed and have not seen the minutes for the meeting yet, but I responded to the request before the meeting indicating that I had no problem agreeing to the statement. However, in general, all GP candidates were asked to submit any statements to GP HQ before signing. My understanding was that the DLGP was awaiting approval from HQ so we could sign the statement. I would not assume that a delayed response from HQ is a negative response, especially since we are receiving numerous requests to sign statements each day, all of which must be reverted to GPHQ. Personally, I have no issue supporting the democratic rights & freedom of expression of atheists or any religious or spiritual practice providing it does not harm others. I will follow this issue up with HQ on Monday. -Cara Augustenborg
I was a member of the Green Party from 2002 to 2008. Around about 2003 or 2004 a motion was passed at National Council to the effect that: The Green Party Supports the Separation of Church and State.
This motion was brought to National Council by my Group (Fingal Greens) and was proposed by Ann James.
As a result Separation of Church and State is official Green Party Policy. I assume this policy was not revoked in the meantime but was just conveniently forgotten about like so many other good Green Party policies that were perceived to be voter unfriendly.
Nothing has been forgotten or revoked, the candidates have publicly said they support the principles as stated. I don’t understand Atheist Ireland’s reaction. Green Party candidates are required to support Green Party policy not to start signing up to other organisations pledges, these are coming in thick and fast.
They are starting to publicly say that now (we agree but we have to check, or we agree but we don’t like you), after declining to publicly say anything after the meeting that discussed it, and after the party ignored our repeated requests to clarify the position until we publicised it.
If you want to alienate and insult voters who you say you agree with, well fair enough, but it is an odd way to run an election campaign.
I still don’t quite understand; all of these pledges have to be referred to Head office to make sure there is no conflict with party policy (even though it was pretty clear in this case), that is the procedure. I’m sorry you are offended that the matter was not dealt with quickly enough but we’re pretty busy and a small organisation. Eamon is running for Europe (and can’t get through his emails at the best of time!).
‘Liking’ or ‘not liking’ has nothing to do with the issue, obviously Ossian has some sort of a problem with you that I don’t know anything about and am not prepared to comment on, he has made his statement.
I don’t have strong feelings on the whole pledge idea but since separation of church and state is already party policy I’d rather stick to the GP position and don’t think I need to sign a separate pledge. (Strikes me as being a little ‘religious’ but sure it’s an interesting discussion.)
For the record I was and am still quite happy to sign up to the principles in the document as presented. I believe they are well thought out and would improve Irish society. I will be supporting these principles if elected.
However I won’t be endorsing any organisation run by the author of this article.
I’m glad that you are happy to sign up to the principles in the document as presented.
Can we take that statement as the equivalent of you signing the secular statement?
Also, a few other questions.
When did we ask you to endorse Atheist Ireland?
Have you publicly volunteered that you don’t endorse any other organisation that didn’t ask you to endorse them?
Who do you think is the author of the article?
Who do you think runs Atheist Ireland?
You were not asked to endorse the organisation or any elected member of the organisation. Why would any organisation ask a Green Party member to endorse them? That really is a strange attitude as you seem to be getting into personalities here which is very unprofessional. We do not care if you don’t like our democratically elected committee members.
This is what you were asked “It is important to note that Atheist Ireland did not ask the candidates to support atheism, or to make any comment on their personal religious or philosophical beliefs. We asked them to support the principle that the State should be neutral between religion and atheism, while respecting the right of any citizen to freedom of religion or belief while not infringing on the rights of other citizens, and they declined to do this.”
to clarify, I am the author of this piece, not Michael Nugent. It says “by Michael Nugent’ as he was the website administrator who posted the article.
I am very pleased to hear that you are endorsing the principles and values in the Secular Statement and I look forward to receiving a signed copy from you. However, your next comment leaves me somewhat puzzled “However I won’t be endorsing any organisation run by the author of this article”. As I have said I am the author of this piece, but I take it that you have presumed it was Michael Nugent. There appears to be a certain illogical inference here; Michael Nugent is an atheist, Michael Nugent offends me, all atheists offend me. Which brings me back to the problem raised in the piece, that green party candidates do not want to be seen to be associated with atheists.
I’m an ex member of the green party and this behavior is making me feel even less like voting for them.
A rather over-the-top reaction from AI IMO. Reading this site, we’ve gone from a Green Party candidate being lauded for being the first to sign the statement (the only one so far?) to the assertion now that Green Party candidates “do not want to be seen to be associated with atheists”.
And, all along, AI acknowledges that the candidates in question actually support the efforts and principles behind the statement?
Come on, guys, it feels a lot like we’re coming under friendly fire.
I haven’t seen the exact statement, but you can add my name to the list of Green Party candidates who support the Dublin Declaration in principle.
I say “in principle” because it is imperfect IMO. It does mark out a very good path but I’d quibble over some (very few) of its details. In any case, as others have said, a secular state is already Green Party policy. So, really, you’re gunning for the wrong people.
BTW if Green Party HQ or Eamon Ryan haven’t got back to you I guess it’s because they are SWAMPED at the moment. I wouldn’t take offence.
(Comments above are my own, by the way, as someone with an interest in the work of Atheist Ireland, and is not any “Green Party” statement.)
thank you very much for your excellent comments on the above spat, and spat it is. Actually I am the person who got this item on to the agenda of our last Monthly meeting of the Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown branch Green Party and I am also an active Green Party Member and have been a Member of the Greens for c. 25years +. I am our local Treasurer and I am the Campaign Manager for Celine Moorkens who is running in the Blackrock Ward, in fact myself and a young fit man were on the roads from 6.30 am til 9am today putting up Celines Posters. I am also a committed member of Atheist Ireland and they are an absolutely marvelous organization who are and have been in the vanguard of making our Country a more Secular and pleasant place to live in. I do not have divided loyalties between `The Greens’ and `Atheist Ireland’, I believe and support both groups to the best of my ability. At our last meeting all present agreed in full with the aims of `The Secular Statement’ issued by Atheist Ireland but people did have a problem putting their names to a statement issued by Atheist Ireland. I don’t necessarily agree with this position but that is their absolute and democratic right. I honestly think that this has taken on a life of it’s own and things have been said which should not have been said. So, let everyone park this and get on with getting all of our wonderful candidates elected to Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown Council and Eamon as the Dublin MEP. Kindest regards to all my friends and colleagues in The Greens and Atheist Ireland. Dave Kiernan.
Yes, I’m still not happy that this article starts with an offensive quote that appears to come from me or one of the other dlr candidates, four of whom weren’t even at the meeting. However as a newbie political candidate, I guess I am meant to accept these minor injustices.
I have updated my website to show that I agree with the principles of the Dublin Agreement.
I have had a large number of requests from lobby groups to endorse various pledges. These pledges are passed to head office and if agreed to be in line with party policy, the candidate can choose to publicly declare them.
I would never sign the headed paper of an organisation with which I am unfamiliar. This could be construed as an endorsement of that organisation without knowing the character and behaviour of that group. I made it clear that I was happy to endorse everything on the page apart from the letterhead.
Best of luck getting other candidates to endorse your position.