The Atheist Ireland AGM is on Saturday. Here’s a review of our political work and breakthroughs during the past year

The 2014 Atheist Ireland AGM will take place next Saturday, 25 October, in Wynnes Hotel in Abbey Street, Dublin. We will publish details of the agenda later today. As usual, the morning session will be for members only (you can join on the day) and the afternoon session will be open to members of the public.

We have had a very busy political year since our last AGM, with some major breakthroughs at the UN Human Rights Committee and the Government finally announcing a referendum next year to remove the blasphemy clause from the Constitution. This post lists and links to some highlights in the following categories:

1. International Political Lobbying on Human Rights
2. National Political Lobbying on Constitutional Change
3. National Political Lobbying on Secular Education
4. National Political Lobbying on other Secular Issues
5. Primary School Lessons about Atheism
6. Sample Media Events
7. Sample Debates and Talks

Also, we have greatly expanded our regional activities under Regional officer Kevin Sheehan, with new branches and Secular Sunday brunches and Atheists in the Pub events now happening around the country. Our monthly information tables in Dublin organised by Brendan Maher and Ashling O’Brien are now also starting in Galway. We have redesigned our website and our Secular Sunday email newsletter.

1. International Political lobbying on Human Rights

October 2013

  • Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly spoke at the OSCE’s international human rights implementation conference in Warsaw, Poland. This annual conference monitors how OSCE states are implementing their human rights obligations under international treaties.
  • We highlighted ongoing breaches of the human rights of atheists to freedom of conscience and belief, freedom of expression, equality before the law, freedom from discrimination, the right of pregnant women to health, the rights of the child and the right to a secular education.
  • We asked the OSCE to specifically combat discrimination against atheists in the same way as it specifically combats discrimination against Muslims, Jews and Christians. Read more.

November 2013

  • The UN Human Rights Committee published the list of issues that it will ask Ireland about, under the fourth periodic review of Ireland’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • The UN is to ask Ireland about three specifically secular issues raised by Atheist Ireland – the religious oaths for Irish public office holders, discrimination against atheists and religious minorities in Irish primary schools, and the Irish law against blasphemy. Read more.

March 2014

  • Atheist Ireland made a written submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on Ireland’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland published an analysis of Why religious education must be neutral and objective, and how the Irish State is ignoring our human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Read more.

July 2014

  • Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly briefed the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva about religious discrimination in Ireland, particularly in the education system. The issues we raised in our briefing were directly reflected in many of the UN’s questions to the Irish State delegation, led by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. Read more.
  • In a significant exchange, the Irish Government formally accepted that the will of the Irish people as expressed in a referendum or parliamentary vote cannot be used to deny human rights, including to pregnant women who need an abortion to protect their health. Read more.
  • The Irish Government evaded most of the secular-related questions in its formal written response. Read more.
  • The UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and minority faiths in the education system. Read more.
  • The UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and minority faith teachers and health workers. Read more.
  • The UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland to remove religious oaths for public office and to remove the law against blasphemy. Read more.
  • These conclusions will form the basis of much of Atheist Ireland’s political work in the coming years. We have been working towards this event for several years, and this is the culmination to date of our policy of building our political lobbying on the foundation of human rights law.

September 2014

  • Atheist Ireland made a written submission to UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, who will be questioning Ireland next year on its obligations with regard to these rights.
  • We outlined the failure of the Irish State to protect the human rights of atheists and secularists in the Irish Education system, and with regard to employment in senior political and legal jobs, and with regard to discrimination against women under the right to health, and with regard to blasphemy laws under cultural rights, and it shows how Irelands’ human rights obligations are incompatible with the Irish Constitution. Read more.

October 2014

  • Michael Nugent and Kevin Sheehan attended and spoke at the OSCE’s international human rights implementation conference in Warsaw, Poland. This annual conference monitors how OSCE states are implementing their human rights obligations under international treaties.
  • We highlighted ongoing breaches of the human rights of atheists to freedom of conscience and belief, freedom of expression, equality before the law, freedom from discrimination, the right of pregnant women to health, the rights of the child and the right to a secular education.
  • We again asked the OSCE to specifically combat discrimination against atheists in the same way as it specifically combats discrimination against Muslims, Jews and Christians. Read more.

2. National Political Lobbying on Constitutional Change

October 2013

  • Atheist Ireland welcomed the call from six members of the Council of State for the removal of the religious elements from the oaths that the Irish President, judges and Council of State members have to swear in order to take up office. Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland made a written submission to the Constitutional Convention, titled A Secular Constitution for a Pluralist People. We recommended (a) Remove specific references to God (b) Replace all religious oaths for public officeholders with a single neutral declaration, and (c) Amend the Articles on Fundamental Rights to explicitly give equal protection to religious and nonreligious philosophical believers. Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland made a written submission to the Constitutional Convention, titled Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Without Discrimination. We asked the Convention to add the protection of ESC Rights onto its agenda, and to recommend to the Government to examine how best to protect ESC rights without discrimination on any of the grounds listed in the ICESCR. Read more.

November 2013

  • Michael Nugent, David Nash and Jane Donnelly addressed the Constitutional Convention on the topic of the blasphemy clause. We highlighted the impact of the Irish blasphemy law in ireland and internationally, including the case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan. Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland members, coordinated by regional officer Kevin Sheehan, attended all public meetings of the Constitutional Convention in Cork, Galway, Waterford, Dublin, Sligo, Athlone and Monaghan.
    Atheist Ireland responded critically to the Constitutional Convention’s report on blasphemy law. We are concerned that the Convention wanted to replace the offence in the Constitution with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred. Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland made a supplementary submission to the Constitutional Convention titled First, Fix the Foundation: Separate Church and State. Read more.
  • The Constitutional Convention responded disappointingly to the many citizens who asked it to discuss Separation of Church and State. Only 2% of Convention members voted to discuss the topic, despite it receiving more support than any other topic in the Convention’s public feedback process, and it will therefore not be on the Convention’s agenda. Read more.

October 2014

  • The government has finally announced that a referendum will be held next year to remove the offence of blasphemy from the constitution. Atheist Ireland has campaigned against blasphemy laws since its inception, and is now planning our referendum campaign which will be formalised once we know the wording that the Government is proposing.

3. National Political Lobbying on Secular Education

October 2013

  • Atheist Ireland published advice for parents and other citizens who are making a submission to the Department of Education’s consultation on promoting greater inclusiveness in primary schools. Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland made a formal written submission on the Draft General Scheme of an Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2013. We argued that the proposed legislation fails in its overall objective to ensure that school enrolment policies and procedures are non-discriminatory and are applied fairly in respect of all applicants. So called religious exemptions are in fact religious discrimination which breaches the human rights of minorities. Read more.

November 2013

  • Atheist Ireland made a written submission to the Equality Authority, regarding a proposed amendment to Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998-2011. This is the Section that allows religious, educational or medical institutions to discriminate against employees or potential employees who do not share the religious values and ethos of the religion that runs the institution. Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland wrote to the Minister for Education about inclusiveness in primary schools. We said that a Government consultation leaflet on the issue had ignored fundamental human rights issues raised buy the UN Human Rights Committee. Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland made a written submission to the Department of Education on Promoting Greater Inclusiveness in Primary Schools. We argued that Catholic Church teaching on education is incompatible with human rights law, and the Irish State has failed to respect and protect the human rights of secular parents and their children in denominational schools. Read more.

December 2013

  • Jane Donnelly made a presentation, and answered questions from TDs and Senators, at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. The meeting was discussing the Draft General Scheme of an Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2013. Jane told the Committee that Irish schools breach human rights law. Read more. And more here.
  • Atheist Ireland wrote to the Ombudsman for Children, about the need to protect the human rights of secular parents and their children from the religious integrated curriculum in denominational Irish primary schools. Read more.

January 2014

  • The European Court judgment in the Louise O’Keeffe case changed everything in the campaign for secular education in Ireland. The State was arguing that it was not responsible for protecting Louise O’Keeffe’s human rights while she was in school, because the State did not run the school directly. The European Court has now told the State that it was responsible for protecting Louise O’Keeffe’s human rights while she was in school, regardless of whether it runs the schools directly. And that ruling has implications for all of the human rights that are breached by religiously-run national schools in Ireland. Read more.

February 2014

  • Atheist Ireland wrote a second letter to the Ombudsman for Children, about the advice that she has given to the Minister for Education on religious discrimination in admission to primary schools. Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland published, with permission, stories from two parents about religious discrimination and indoctrination in their local schools. Read more.

March 2014

  • The Oireachtas Committee on Education called for integration not segregation in schools, as proposed by Atheist Ireland. It concluded that multiple patronage and ethos as a basis for policy can lead to segregation and inequality in the education system, and that the objectives of admission policy should be equality and integration. Read more.

May 2014

  • Atheist Ireland published an analysis of a speech by the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, in which we argued that ‘Parental Choice’ in education is a euphemism for religious segregation. Read more.

August 2014

  • Educate Together made two statements recently that undermine the duty of the Irish Government to provide secular education though new non-denominational schools, as required by the UN Human Rights Committee. Educate Together did this by blurring the distinction between multi-denominational schools (which Educate Together schools are) and non-denominational schools (which the UN Human Rights Committee has told Ireland to provide access to). Read more.
  • Atheist Ireland published an analysis of how Irish law effectively prohibits non-denominational secular schools based on human rights, despite the Irish Government telling the UN Human Rights Committee last month that there are no obstacles to establishing such schools in Ireland. Read more.

September 2014

  • Atheist Ireland responded to a call by Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre for a “revolution of inclusivity” in Irish schools and “an upheaval in Irish educational perspectives”, by inviting the two publicly funded National schools under the patronage of the Islamic Foundation of Ireland to lead the way by including the children of atheists and secularists in their schools. Read more.

4. National Political Lobbying on other Secular Issues

February 2014

  • Atheist Ireland published an analysis of the Civil Registration Act titled Rules for secular marriage? The Irish Civil Registration Service is making it up as they go along. It included a summary of our lengthy correspondence with the Civil Registration Service and Information Commissioner over the past year. Read more.

March 2014

  • Atheist Ireland made a written submission on the Draft General Scheme for Advance Healthcare Directives for Incorporation into the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill (2013). Read more.

April 2014

  • Atheist Ireland began asking European and Local Election candidates to sign a Secular Statement, based on the one adopted at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in 2011, and to publish details of all responses, to enable voters to know which candidates are most and least supportive of freedom of belief and separation of church and state. Our Cavan Monaghan branch started that process led by branch chairperson John Hamill. Read more. And more. And more.
  • Atheist Ireland sent a briefing to document to Senators about a Bill that aims to amend Section 37 of the Irish Employment Equality Act. This is the Section that allows religious institutions, including schools and hospitals, an exemption to discriminate against employees to protect the religious ethos of their institution. Read more.
  • The concerns and proposals raised by Atheist Ireland in our briefing document to Senators were raised in the Seanad, during a Committee Stage debate on Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. Read more.
  • The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said that the approach of the current Seanad Bill allowing religious discrimination is undesirable, and may continue to leave the State exposed to a breach of its obligations under the European Employment Equality Directive 2000/78. Read more.

May 2014

  • The Irish Catholic newspaper manufactured a controversy about Atheist Ireland and the Green Party, using poor research and failures in basic journalistic standards. It also misled its readers by failing to report its own role in the controversy. Read more.

November 2014

  • Atheist Ireland wrote to Kerry County Council about the decision to erect a crucifix in the new Council Chamber. We have asked them what steps they have taken to see whether this decision complies with equality legislation and the code of conduct for councillors. We will be following up on this issue during the coming year.
  • Atheist Ireland wrote to the Minister for the Environment about the use of religious oaths, and the display of Bibles and religious symbols, in polling stations during the coming referendum on blasphemy. We highlighted the UN Human Rights Committee’s reminder to Ireland about the human right to not be required to reveal your religious or nonreligious beliefs in public.

5. Primary School Lessons about Atheism

  • Atheist Ireland launched the fundraising for our project to finance, develop, design and piloti Ireland’s first ever primary school course about atheism. We are working with Educate Together to coordinate this project, with information provided by us and developed into lessons by professionals. This project caught imaginations around the world. Read more.
  • In January 2013 we started preliminary meetings with Educate Together regarding the new course about atheism. There are around 70 Educate Together schools in Ireland out of over 3000.
  • We now have the funding raised to begin developing this course, and we will be announcing more details in the coming months.

6. Sample Media Events

  • Michael Nugent was on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence, discussing various topics.
  • Jane Donnelly was on RTE’s Beyond Belief discussing RTE’s daily broadcasting of the Angelus.
  • Andrew Rattigan was on RTE’s Beyond Belief discussing whether the media is biased against the Catholic church in Ireland.
  • Derek Walsh was on Today FM discussing the place of religion in schools.
  • Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly were on RTE’s Liveline discussing various topics.
  • Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent were on TV3’s People’s Debate with Vincent Browne. The topic was ‘Is Ireland Homophobic?’
  • John Hamill and Corey White were on regional radio stations discussing various topics.

7. Sample Debates and Talks

  • Derek Walsh debated in UCD on the topic This House Believes God Loves Gay People Too
  • Michael Nugent debated with scientist and Christian David Glass in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, on the topic Does God Exist?
  • Michael Nugent spoke about vegetarianism, morality and atheism at the Dublin Festival for World Vegetarian Day.
  • Michael Nugent, Peter O’Hara and Peter Ferguson debated in UCD on the topic that This House Would Believe in a God.
  • Jane Donnelly, Michael Nugent and Peter Ferguson talked in NUI Galway about how Ireland can become a secular state.
  • Michael Nugent spoke at the Oxford Union, where he proposed the motion That Religion Harms Society.
  • Michael Nugent and Sinead O’Connor debated Jerry Buttimer TD and Fr Tony Flannery in TCD on the topic Can the Catholic Church be salvaged?
  • Michael Nugent spoke at the Freedom From Religion Conference in North Carolina on atheism in Ireland and blasphemy laws.
  • Michael Nugent had a discussion with Leah Libresco, who in 2012 converted from being an atheist blogger at Unequally Yoked to being a Roman Catholic.
  • Michael Nugent debated at NUI Galway on the topic Is Islam a Religion of Peace?
  • Michael Nugent debated at UCD with a Hindu spokesperson about whether there is a God.
Michael Nugent
Atheist Ireland