Which parties have the most secular policies? Ten answers from the political parties

Atheist Ireland has asked the political parties running in the General Election this Saturday, 8th February 2020, to answer ten questions regarding secular issues.

You can read below the responses from (in alphabetical order) Fine Gael, Green Party, Labour Party, People Before Profit, Social Democrats, and Solidarity.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin did not respond in time to include here. We have included any relevant commitments that we have found in their manifestos.

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1. One Oath For All

Will you support amending the Constitution to enable the President, Judges, and members of the Council of State (which includes Taoiseach and Tanaiste) to swear an oath of loyalty to the state and the Constitution, that has no references to either religious or nonreligious beliefs?

Fine Gael: Our manifesto does not contain a commitment in relation to an oath. In line with our party’s values, we act in a way that is right for Ireland, regardless of dogma or ideology. For further details on our values see https://www.finegael.ie/the-party/our-values/

Green Party: The Green Party in general supports the rights of people of all faiths and none to receive full equal treatment in all aspects of their lives.

Labour Party: The Party has not formally agreed a policy on this question, but Labour is in favour of a secular state that is neutral with respect to people’s religious beliefs.

People Before Profit: Yes.

Social Democrats: Yes.

Solidarity: There should be no religious references in the constitution and no obligation for a religious based oath for any office or taking part in court proceedings. Solidarity has introduced a Bill to make these amendments to the constitution and will reintroduce it in the next Dáil if elected. In the last Dáil our TDs strongly opposed the changes to the Dáil standing orders that obliged TDs to stand for prayer each morning if in the chamber.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

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2. Secular Education

Will you support amending relevant laws to ensure that publicly-funded schools cannot discriminate on the ground of religion against students in access, and against teachers in employment, and by privileging one religion when appointing publicly-funded chaplains?

Fine Gael: Our manifesto states the following: “We will achieve the target of at least 400 multi-denominational and nondenominational schools by 2030, to improve parental choice. We will continue to uphold the rights of parents to have their children educated in a denominational school. We will protect minority faith schools.” Since 2016 through the establishment of new schools and the transfer of denominational schools into being multi-denominational 32 primary and 18 post primary became multi-denominational schools.

Green Party: The Green Party believes that schools receiving any state funding should be fair, transparent and inclusive in their policies and practices for entrance of students. We would end the practice where schools can discriminate against pupils in the admissions process on the basis of religion, or of special educational needs. We also would eliminate Section 37 (1) of the Education and Employment Equality Act 1998; eliminating this would end the exemption allowing schools to discriminate against teachers or other employees on the basis of religion.

Labour Party: The Party has not formally agreed a policy on this question, but Labour is in favour of a secular state that is neutral with respect to people’s religious beliefs. Publicly-funded schools or hospitals should not discriminate on the basis of religion.

People Before Profit: Yes.

Social Democrats: Yes. We want to establish a Citizens’ Assembly to make recommendations to the Oireachtas on how to move towards an entirely secular education system.

Solidarity: Solidarity are in favour of a full separation of church and state. Religion is a personal freedom and should not advantage or disadvantage anyone accessing public services such as education. Solidarity introduced the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill in 2015 to remove the exemption from employment equality legislation that religious ethos based schools had. There were changes made following this Bill, but the ability to discriminate on religion grounds remain. Solidarity introduced the Equal Participation in Schools Bill which would have ended religious grounds for school admissions and would have separated religion from the curriculum. Chaplains should not be funded by the State.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. This is in their manifesto: We will provide a one-stop information platform within the Department of Education to provide clear, non-biased information on the consequences of divestment and to provide responses to specific claims.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

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3. Alternative Classes to Religion

Parents and students have the right, under the Constitution and Education Act, to attend any publicly-funded school without attending religious teaching. Will you support their right to do this without discrimination, and that they be given an alternative timetabled subject?

Fine Gael: The content of the religious education programme and arrangements for faith formation and sacramental preparation in a primary school is determined by the patron of the school. At post-primary level, the Religious Education curriculum designed by the NCCA is an optional examinable subject at Junior and Leaving Certificate. Schools are not required to include the NCCA-developed Religious Education syllabuses at Junior or Senior Cycle as mandatory subjects on their curriculum.

Green Party: The Green party support keeping religious activities of schools to after (or before) the core school day. This may include simultaneous alternative extra-curricular classes, potentially including those from different religious groups, taking place alongside each other within the same school buildings.

Labour Party: Yes.

People Before Profit: Yes, but we advocate religion being taught as an optional extra after school.

Social Democrats: Yes. We want to remove ‘faith formation’ from the school day and provide it as an after school option.

Solidarity: Yes, the right not to take part in religious teaching or worship is clear. There is no obligation on parents and pupils to give any reasons. There should be clear regulations applicable in all schools where opting out is straight forward and without question.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

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4. Data Protection in Schools

Will you support the right of parents and students, under the data protection law, to not have to reveal their religious or philosophical convictions, directly or indirectly, when exercising their right to not attend religious teaching or worship in publicly-funded schools?

Fine Gael: We will continue to uphold the rights of parents to have their children educated in a denominational school. We will protect minority faith schools.

Green Party: The Green Party views data protection as a fundamental right. Disclosure is a matter of individual consent, and we do not support compulsory revealing of data, including religious or philosophical beliefs. Furthermore, if this consent to this data is granted, we believe that management thereof would be at the behest of the individual, including the right to withdraw consent and have the data deleted at any time.

Labour Party: Yes.

People Before Profit: Yes.

Social Democrats: Yes.

Solidarity: There’s a legal and constitutional right to opt out of any religious teaching in schools, however there are no regulations to vindicate this right and make it a reality. Solidarity’s proposal in the Equal Participation in Schools Bill was to completely separate religion from the curriculum, for any religious teaching to be after core school hours and for the Minister to outline clear regulations on how the right not to participate will be vindicated in all schools. There should be alternative subjects available in all schools to religion, including an alternative to the NCCA Religious Education course. Our TDs strongly criticised the current government rowing back on basic reforms in this area in ETB schools.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

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5. Objective Sex Education

Will you support amending the Education Act to ensure that students, in all publicly-funded schools, can exercise their right under the European Social Charter to objective sex education that is delivered objectively and not through a religious ethos?

Fine Gael: Fine Gael is committed to ensuring a RSE curriculum that is appropriate to the age and developmental stage of the children in our schools. It is important that we provide future generations with an understanding of the importance of consent, the development of relationships, safe use of the internet and a healthy positive attitude to sexuality.

Green Party: The Green Party proposes to ensure that external RSE programmes are provided to educate students most in need. Additionally, we would ensure all teachers who undertake the teaching of SPHE are formally trained in an ongoing course reflective of the complex nature of the subject. We would ensure that teachers are fully prepared to provide the course in its entirety, including any and all sensitive topics included in the curriculum.

Labour Party: Yes.

People Before Profit: Yes and we brought a Bill to the Dail.

Social Democrats: Yes.

Solidarity: Children and young people have a right to the best possible relationships and sex education regardless of what school they attend. The Education Act must change if a high quality RSE curriculum is to be implemented as the law gives schools the ability to place ethos over curriculum and puts an obligation on the Minister and school boards to adhere to ethos. Solidarity introduced the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill in 2018 to do this. Since it passed second stage in the Dail, Leo Varadkar has refused to give it a ‘money message’ and effectively vetoed the Bill. If re-elected our TDs will restore this Bill and continue to press this vital issue.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. This is in their manifesto: Development and roll-out of a more inclusive Relationships and Sexuality Education curriculum

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6. Secular Healthcare

Will you support a publicly-funded healthcare system where decisions are based on human rights and the medical needs of patients, and not on religious ethics, in particular with regard to operation of the new National Maternity Hospital?

Fine Gael: Fine Gael supports a publicly-funded healthcare system. The governance arrangements for the new National Maternity Hospital will be based on the provisions of the Mulvey Agreement. That Agreement provides for the establishment of a new company – National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park DAC- which will have clinical and operational, as well as financial and budgetary independence in the provision of maternity, gynaecology and neonatal services. The Agreement ensures that a full range of health services will be available at the new hospital without religious, ethnic or other distinction.

Green Party: The Green Party believes strongly in the principle of patient-centric healthcare, that is to say, universal healthcare, built around patient empowerment and preventative methods. This would be supported by information technology, accessed on the basis of medical need, and carried out in an economic, equitable and ecological manner.

Labour Party: Yes.

People Before Profit: Yes.

Social Democrats: Yes.

Solidarity: Yes. Solidarity is for the full separation of church and state. There should be no ex-officio seats on any hospital boards for religious office holders, as is the case in the National Maternity Hospital. Religious orders should not be able to influence healthcare through ownership of land. Patients and medical professionals should make decisions based on human rights and clinical need. We also need a single tier well-funded public health service where there are not waiting lists and ongoing crises.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. This is in their manifesto: Ensure that ownership and governances issues in the new Maternity Hospital on St Vincent’s site are open, transparent and that the facility is state owned.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. This is in their manifesto: Ensure the new National Maternity Hospital remains entirely within public ownership and has legally guaranteed independence from all non-medical influence in its clinical operations.

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7. Assisted Dying

Will you support the right of seriously ill people to get the best medical resources if they want to stay alive for as long as they can, and the right of terminally or seriously ill people to have the right to die peacefully when they choose if they want to?

Fine Gael: Fine Gael has no intention of changing existing legislation in regard to the right to die.

Green Party: On palliative care and end of life: The Green Party believes that palliative care should be further expanded. All services – hospital, hospice, community hospitals, health clinics and care homes – should promote the knowledge and understanding of the process of dying and universal palliative care training should be required for all clinical, care and ancillary staff, appropriate to each staff member’s role. On assisted dying: The Green Party proposes that there should be a statutory right to an assisted death which would be distinguished in law from suicide, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. We believe that assisted dying provisions should apply only to those with a terminal illness which is likely to result in death within six months. As this is a complex and sensitive issue requiring many provisions and safeguards, we would advocate reading the full policy, which can be found here: https://www.greenparty.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Green-Party-Assisted-Dying-Policy.pdf

Labour Party: The Party has not formally decided on a policy on this complex and sensitive issue.

People Before Profit: Yes.

Social Democrats: We are currently developing a policy on assisted dying and it is not included in our manifesto.

Solidarity: Yes. A person who is capable of making a rational decision should be able to do so without legal risk to anyone assisting them in their choice.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

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8. Solemnising of Marriages

Will you support amending the Civil Registration Act, so that bodies that can nominate solemnisers for marriages are treated equally under the law, instead of having different legal conditions for religious and secular bodies, and for different secular bodies?

Fine Gael: We have no existing plans to amend this legislation but we would be open to examining it.

Green Party: The Green Party in general supports the rights of all people to full equality in matters of marriage, regardless of faith, gender, orientation or any other personal aspect.

Labour Party: Yes.

People Before Profit: Yes.

Social Democrats: Yes.

Solidarity: Yes. Solidarity doesn’t think there should be restrictions on the freedoms of bodies that can nominate solemnisers simply because such a body is not religious based.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. We found no reference to this in their manifesto.

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9. Prejudice-Motivated Crime

Will you support legislation that tackles prejudice against groups through education, and tackles prejudice-motivated crime through the law, while protecting the right to freedom of expression, including about religion, based on human rights principles and standards?

Fine Gael: We have commenced consultation on our incitement to hatred legislation and, if returned to office, we will modernise our laws to ensure that those who seek to encourage and incite others to hate minority groups can be prosecuted. We will identify international best practice in prosecuting hate crime and legislate to create specific offences, to ensure that those who target victims because of their association with a particular identity characteristic, such as their sexual orientation or ethnicity, can be prosecuted.

Green Party: The Green Party supports the rights of all people to live lives free of prejudice or discrimination, and believes that both education and the law are vital tools in ensuring these rights are not infringed upon.

Labour Party: Yes.

People Before Profit: Yes.

Social Democrats: Yes.

Solidarity: There should be legislation that deals with hate crime against minority groups, which includes religious minority groups. Being critical of religion or religious teaching should not be considered hate crime.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. This is in their manifesto: Bring forward legislation and promote activities towards positive integration so that all immigrants can be treated with dignity and fairness.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. This is in their manifesto: Enacting robust hate crime legislation.

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10. Political Funding and Spending

Will you support stronger regulation of political funding and spending, so that religious bodies have to comply on the same basis as secular bodies, and protect the democratic process from online disinformation and the undue influence of wealthy donors?

Fine Gael: In November we announced legislative proposals which will obligate online paid-for political advertisement to be labelled as such and clearly display certain information, or a link to the information, in a clear and conspicuous manner. This proposal is as an interim measure until the establishment of a Statutory Electoral Commission which will oversee a wider reform of the electoral process.

Green Party: The Green Party believes that all organisations spending over a certain threshold in relation to a specific campaign or general political activities should be regarded the same, i.e. a “third party” under SIPO rules. The party is also committed to ensuring that democracy is conducted in a free and fair manner with a level and transparent playing field, protected from undue or malign influences

Labour Party: All political third parties seeking to influence referendums or elections are regulated by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC).

People Before Profit: Yes.

Social Democrats: Yes.

Solidarity: Yes. Funding of political parties and causes should be fully transparent and without interference from big business. Ireland has a long history of big business donations impacting on political decision making such as in planning. There should not be any differences in political spending regulation between religious and secular bodies. Engaging in political discourse and activity is a civil right that should not be curtailed by whether an organisation is secular or religious.

Fianna Fáil: Did not respond. This is in their manifesto: We will implement an Online Political Transparency Bill to ensure micro-targeting is ended.

Sinn Féin: Did not respond. This is in their manifesto: Establishing an independent Electoral Commission that registers all political parties, regulates electoral standards including around financial donations and interests

Atheist Ireland

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