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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter at @EamonRyan.