Atheist Ireland declines invitation to State events marking 1916 rising

Atheist Ireland has declined an invitation from the Irish Government to attend today’s State Ceremony at the GPO, and State Reception in Dublin Castle, marking the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising. We welcome the intention of the Government to be inclusive of people of all religious and nonreligious beliefs in these events.

Atheist Ireland promotes an ethical secular Ireland. The 1916 rising involved an undemocratic group killing innocent people, based on a Proclamation whose authors claimed that Ireland was acting through them in the name of God, and who added: “We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms.”

The Irish Government is reinforcing the religious connotations of the rising by marking its anniversary on the wrong date. The 1916 rising began on 24 April 1916. The Government is marking its centenary four weeks early, on 27 March 2016. The reason for using the wrong date is to make the commemorations coincide with the Christian holiday of Easter.

Nearly 100 years on, we live in a Republic where the State claims that it is constitutionally obliged to buttress religious discrimination; where 90% of our primary schools are run by the Catholic church; where you have to swear a religious oath to be President, a judge or Taoiseach; and where we have recently passed a new law against blasphemy.

Atheist Ireland continues to appreciate our ongoing involvement in the political dialogue process between the Irish Government and religious and nonreligious philosophical bodies on matters of mutual concern. We respect the right of the Irish Government and all people of any beliefs, including members of Atheist Ireland, to commemorate the 1916 rising.


The following is a clarification from Atheist Ireland in response to some of the feedback about this decision.

Atheist Ireland did not oppose the 1916 commemorations. We said that we respect the right of the Government to hold these commemorations, and the right of anyone, including Atheist Ireland members, to attend them. 

We simply declined an invitation to watch them, just as President Higgins has since declined an invitation to attend a 1916 centenary dinner in Belfast. Nobody has suggested that President Higgins has opposed the Belfast commemorations. 

Atheist Ireland is neutral between national political allegiances. We work alongside Atheist Northern Ireland and Atheism UK. We participate in an ongoing dialogue process with the Irish Government. We work with Atheist Alliance International on global issues. We spent last week briefing the UN in Geneva about secular human rights.

We do not reject either Irish nationalism or unionism, or the nonreligious aspects of the proclamation. One of our committee members had relatives involved in the 1916 rising, one of whose funerals included a Republican military salute. Another is an Irish nationalist who grew up as a Catholic in West Belfast, and brought his children to the centenary commemorations.

Nobody represents all atheists. Atheists are individual people who typically value their personal philosophical independence. Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group that acts on behalf of our members to promote atheism, reason and an ethical secular constitution, laws, education, and healthcare. We take decisions by assessing what position is most consistent with the aims in our constitution. This helps us to depersonalise our decisions.

In this case, we declined an invitation to watch a commemoration of events that involved killing innocent people in the name of God, celebrated on the wrong day to reinforce religious connotations. We would have declined a similar invitation to watch a religiously-permeated commemoration of the First World War. And there are still people today killing innocent people in the name of their Gods.

Finally, some people have said that they were offended by what we said. While we do not set out to offend people, neither would we avoid saying something because it offends people. Many religious people are offended by many of the things that we say about the harm caused by religion, and that does not stop us from speaking out on those issues.

With hindsight, we should have added these explicit clarifications to our original statement, in order to avoid confusion. We will continue to promote atheism, reason and ethical secularism, and we remain happy to clarify any misunderstandings about what we do.

Atheist Ireland


  1. Avatar
    John March 27, 2016

    I’m an Irish atheist but this decision is disrespectful and seriously not well thought out. If you can’t join the rest of the Irish people in attending the State’s official centenary commemoration of the seminal event (however flawed) that eventually led to our freedom, having been officially invited, then you are just a fringe of no-sayers and will forever remain so. Your presence at our national event would have garnered you far more respect than your rejection of it.

    • Avatar
      Barry Fox March 27, 2016

      What freedom John? Domination by corporations and foreign powers, partition, vast inequality? Not exactly what the revolutionaries of 1916 had in mind is it?

  2. Avatar
    Nialler March 27, 2016

    What, precisely, was the reason for declining the invite, because there is a mish-mash of them here:

    No mandate for the rebels.
    Deaths of innocent people.
    The bloody nature of the events
    The mention o God in the proclamation.
    The date of the commemoration.
    The oaths laid down in an Bunreacht.

    None of these have stopped AI engaging with the State in the past.

    On top of all of this why publicly decline an invitation made in good faith? Doing so involves criticism of the inviter and is rude.

    I thought that AI were actively seeking to build up its ties with government institutions.

    AI’s presence at the events would have given symbolic representation to those of us who see a more secular Ireland.

    The statement gives rise to the suspicion that the real reason is distaste at the events in 1916. If so, then you as a group are going beyond your remit.

    It’s a retrograde step as well as being petty and rude.

  3. Avatar
    Bobby March 27, 2016

    ‘The 1916 rising involved an undemocratic group killing innocent people’

    Wowzers, what a shocking statement to make. I wonder if the author considers the privileged life they live, so much so that they can denigrate anybody who’s conditions are so desperate, that they take such drastic measures. That is literally how far I got into reading this, it reads like a typical middle class perspective on reality.

    This is a tragic and embarrassing statement to make and one which contains no empathy whatsoever. Good luck with your group, I certainly wouldn’t want to be in any way associated with people who happily put out these types of statements, abusing the use/name and, ironically, speaking out on behalf of atheists when most of us I’m sure already had little interest in the group itself. You’d have been better off just ignoring the invitation than writing this offensive piece.

    My advice would be to stick to atheism and leave the complicated historical and socio-political commentary to others lest you embarrass yourselves further.

  4. Avatar
    K.King March 28, 2016

    Wow, if I hadn’t already finished with Atheist Ireland this would have done it. You are quickly becoming more dogmatic than the Catholic Church but less reasonable. I for one would appreciate if you added a disclaimer to your name: Atheist Ireland (not representing all Atheists in Ireland just the belligerent ones.)

    • Avatar
      Mark Carter March 28, 2016

      Well, if you have already finished with Atheist Ireland, why are you commenting? You can ‘appreciate’ a disclaimer all you want, but as you’re not a member, I doubt anyone will facilitate your desire. But you’re right, “not representing all atheists in Ireland” is more correct, since it does not represent you. PS – I’m a member. I’m
      not belligerent.

  5. Avatar
    kevin March 28, 2016

    A correct decision not to attend……well done.

  6. Avatar
    Paddy MacCarthy March 28, 2016

    Cancelling my membership today. This group has become more arrogant and self-righteous than the Catholic Church ever were

  7. Avatar
    Desmond O'Toole March 28, 2016

    We are often called upon to attend ceremonies that include elements we don’t always agree with. Like attending the weddings or other life events of family members or friends that take place in religious venues. That’s simply part of the give and take of life. The 1916 commemorations present difficulties for many citizens. It is especially interesting to note, however, that these questioning and complex attitudes are identifiable in the approach of many who attended the commemorations. Any reasonable person would not have been so churlish as to stand on their own molehill and publicly not only decline the State invitation but denounce it in such strong terms. I’m afraid I agree with other commentators here, that AI demonstrated the same self-righteous dogmatism that we have become all too familiar with from other zealots – religious and political.

  8. Avatar
    John Kinsella March 28, 2016

    I am a lifelong atheist and have often considered joining AI.
    That consideration is now over.

    I stood in College Green on Sunday morning with my daughter for three hours in a happy, proud crowd of tens of thousands.

    A day I will long remember.

    Yes the Catholic prayers by the Army Chaplain were way OTT.

    But the author (M Nugent?) of that sour little press release wasn’t speaking for me. And not for many.

  9. Avatar
    Alan Murphy March 28, 2016

    Taking the comments here and on Michael Nugent’s own site as a temperature, I wonder is this thee most spectacularly misjudged move made by AI in recent times? Hard to fathom the public declination. Rude and belligerent, and the offered rationales are scattergun, incohesive, and contain atheistic non sequiturs.

  10. Avatar
    Jamie March 28, 2016

    Like a previous poster, I’m not a member, but have considered joining. In the main, I think that AI does tremendous work and have an exceptionally articulate chairperson in Michael Nugent. I also happen to be a history graduate. I am very disappointed by this decision and by the statement above.

    You state ‘the 1916 rising involved an undemocratic group killing innocent people.’ This could, and perhaps should, refer to the British army as nobody here voted for this country to be colonised by Britain. The majority of the innocent people who died resulted from the British decision to use heavy artillery and the vast majority of deliberate targeting of civilians was done by the British e.g. North King Street & Francis Sheehy Skeffington.

    Yes the proclamation contains religious language, it is a product of its time and should be excused as such. Even that most secular of republics-the United States, has a declaration of independence which refers to ‘a creator.’

    As for the commemoration not been held at Easter rather than the actual date, that’s extremely petty. ‘The Easter Rising’ clue is in the name.

    This decision was made based on a revisionist interpretation of history. The Rising, whether you like it or not, led to our independence and was is commemorated. The atheists of Ireland deserved representation at that commemoration.

  11. Avatar
    Nialler March 28, 2016

    I would hope that if AI respond to these criticisms they do so in a positive and not defensive manner.

    As an Irishman and an Atheist I have to say that I am sorely disappointed.

    Let me be frank about where I stand.

    I tend to reject activist atheism which appears to in most cases exist to pormote atheism on its own using the denigration of religion as a tool.

    There are far too many activists doing that.

    AI, however, has been acting in a different way so far as I can see. While projecting a positive view of atheism, it also has been acting in a very real sense to counteract the real manifestations of theism in daily life. The current campaign regarding equal access to education is entirely laudable and to be supported. Their other efforts in practical application of secular values are likewise of great value.

    That is why I am so very disappointed with this.

    I am an atheist. By definition, noone speaks for me or represents me.

    However, there is most definitely a need for agitation in terms of pushing the state towards a more secular position. In that respect I accept that AI *does* in a sense represent atheists beyond its membership.

    The state certainly does and requested our presence at a series of very significant state occasions.

    AI has a responsibility which goes beyond the boundaries of its committees and its membership. Much as I resent the thought of a hierarchy in atheism and by the way, unelected representatives representing us, the real politics are that AI has taken on that role and the government has decided that AI are a worthy representative team.

    I grudgingly accept that in the context that, yes, there is a need for a voice, and that while unelected, AI perform the role admirably.

    Most of the time.

    Not on this occasion.

  12. Avatar
    Mari March 29, 2016

    I am not a member of AI but I generally feel well represented by them in their advocacy work. But not in this decision. It smacks of the political view of a minority and not a majority. It would be interesting to know what your all members actually think. Maybe the next time you are invited to a major occasion such as this you could poll your members – this is easily done, presumably you have an email address for almost every member. It would also be interesting to know if your members agreed with this particular decision – again a poll could be quickly done – and, in the interest of transparency, publish the results.

    The fact is that the 1916 Rising happened and there is nothing we can do to change that. Hoping that the commemoration would be done in a wholly secular manner is unrealistic in a country that is still politically dominated by those that consider themselves believers. The fact that they invited you at all is almost unbelievable to me and shows how far we have come as a country. The fact that you declined is a major disappointment to me. I would have like to have non-belief officially represented on the day.

  13. Avatar
    Tuskar Rock March 29, 2016

    Oh, you clearly are unaware of, or prepared to accept, the extremely disturbing fact that innocent people were being slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands in Ireland by famines and wars, off and on, for several hundred years prior to 1916, all completely legally, the murderers claimed. On an extremely rough calculation, I think somewhere in the region of 4m people died in this fashion, but I could be wildly wrong either way. So, little new there, what do ye think?
    Course, many of these unfortunates may not have been all that innocent either – they too may (misguidedly, I imagine you will say) have died trying to rid themselves of this murderous foreign incubus. Illegally, to be sure.
    By the way, I was also wondering, does your philosophy at all admit of a people redressing this situation? Determining their own destiny unfettered, the capacity of doing the which had been withheld from them, and would, in a Home Rule “parliament” be continue to be so withheld?

  14. Avatar
    Tracy March 29, 2016

    I am very disappointed by this decision and by the statement above.

    In my opinion it is excusable for the proclamation to mention God give the time at which it was written.

    To have an opinion on the validity of the rising itself and the killing of innocent people goes way beyond your remit as an organisation. I struggle to see how you can justify the organisation having an opinion on this.

    For it to be celebrated at Easter rather than the calendar date is probably partially due to the national bank holiday etc. to allow the country to celebrate. There will also be celebrations on the actual date. The event’s name at the very least should excuse this.

    Your decision taken on behalf of atheists is no better than those made by religious organisations. I know a lot of atheists will not agree with you, and resent this being represented as their views in public like this.

    You have actually set back the cause of separating church and state in the public’s mind with this petty behaviour and misrepresentation of atheists.

  15. Avatar
    Kevin March 29, 2016

    Disappointed with this refusal. I would have liked AI to attend because it would have represented me & reflect the secularist values of a true republic .
    As it is ye left the field open for the reglious orders.
    Ye seem to have gone off on a rant about schools which are valid but surely could have been left for another day.

  16. Avatar
    Colm McElroy April 04, 2016

    Your response to the invitation was petty and smallminded: it does nothing to promote atheism in any meaningful way. Shows a total lack of ability to contextualize – quite embarrassing for most members I should think.

  17. Avatar
    Nialler April 04, 2016

    The update is merely a repetition and adds nothing to the original explanation.

    It is pathetic. It also misrepresents the motivation of the thing in a duplicitous way.

  18. Avatar
    Voodoo Criminology April 05, 2016

    Cross post from Mick Nugent’s blog:

    There’s been a bit of chatter on twitter about this, given that the update doesn’t do anything to allay concerns and that apparently Mick Nugent’s IT letter represents the entirety of Atheist Ireland’s official response, here are a few issues I think you might address:

    In what capacity were Atheist Ireland invited to the event in the first instance? As far as I know, official invites were severely restricted, taking in relatives and a few select groups. It seems overwhelmingly likely to me that AI was invited as a “faith” group by a well-meaning civil servant. If this is the case, and it can easily be confirmed via FOI, why did AI not simply say – as has been the response to most criticism around various issues in recent months – that it does not represent atheists in general, only its members? Would have been a perfectly reasonable ground for refusal if so.

    Was the decision to refuse taken by the Committee in its entirety? If so, on what basis, and was the statement, including the gratuitous and inflammatory reference to “undemocratic killers” also approved? Moreover, what did the latter statement possibly hope to achieve in promoting atheism and secularism in Ireland?

    This whole farrago is doing nothing whatsoever to dispel the impression that Mick Nugent is happy to hold himself out as the Pope of Irish Atheism when it suits him, and to use AI as a vehicle for his own longstanding agendas, but is equally quick to run and hide behind the contention that he doesn’t actually purport to represent atheists in Ireland, only his own clique, whenever his actions are subjected to criticism.

  19. Avatar
    Nialler April 13, 2016

    Phoenix magazine on it now.