Secular Sunday #507 – Zappone scandal and political purposes

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Zappone scandal and political purposes


The Katherine Zappone scandal underlines why it would be bad for democracy to weaken the SIPO laws that regulate donations for political purposes.

Atheist Ireland wants those laws strengthened so that religious bodies cannot evade them by claiming that their donations were for religious purposes then using them for political purposes.

But other advocacy groups want to weaken the SIPO laws, by redefining political purposes to only include campaigning during the time between the calling and holding of an election or referendum.

While not related to donations, the Zappone scandal shows the flaw in such a redefinition. It reminds us that most political influence is sought and granted or not between elections, not during election campaigns.

Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign to protect our democracy from the undue influence of big money on political decisions, both during and between elections, whether that money is going to religious or secular bodies.

If you would like help us in this an other work, please join Atheist Ireland as a member. We are a voluntary group with no paid staff and we depend on members to continue our work. You can join here

– Secular Sunday Editorial Team

Éire Aindiach

Éire Aindiach


Chun ár gcuid feachtais a leathnú agus a neartú, tá sé beartaithe ag Éire Aindiach níos mó úsáid a bhaint as an Ghaeilge.
Ba mhaith linn meitheal a eagrú, chun cuidiú le:
  • Polasaithe agus feachtais Éire Aindiach a phlé ar an raidió nó ar an teilifís
  • Cuidiú le doiciméid ghaeilge a scríobh
  • Bualadh le polaiteoirí chun stocaireacht a dhéanamh
Táimid i mbun aistriúcháin a dhéanamh ar dhoiciméid polasaí faoi láthair, agus teastaíonn cabhair uainn le aistriúchán agus profáil.  Más maith leat bheith páirteach san iarracht seo, cur ríomhphost chugainn ag
English translation:

To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
We are looking to assemble a group of volunteers, to help with:

  • Discussing our policies and campaigns on radio or tv
  • Helping to write documents in Irish
  • Meeting with politicians to lobby them
We are in the process of translating policy documents at the moment, and we need some help with translating and proofreading.  If you would like to assist with this effort, please email us at

Atheist Ireland News

*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=8wOV0Mo45yk]|*

Zappone scandal shows need to protect legal definition of political purposes


The Katherine Zappone scandal shows quite clearly what everybody knows: that most political influence is sought and granted or not between elections, not merely during the few weeks of a formal election or referendum campaign.
That is why Atheist Ireland is lobbying to strengthen, not subvert, the definition of political purposes in the Standards in Public Office laws. We want religious organisations to be brought within its scope, so that they cannot claim to raise money for religious purposes yet use it for political purposes.
Here is the submission that we recently made to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Local Government when they were discussing the Electoral Reform Bill 2020.
Other advocacy groups, including the ICCL and Amnesty Ireland, are trying instead to weaken the SIPO laws. They want the phrase political purposes redefined to only include campaigning during the time between the calling and holding of an election or referendum.
The Katherine Zappone scandal shows the absurdity of such a definition. It is obvious to anybody who looks at it objectively that campaigning to influence any public decision, whether by a Government Minister or any other public body, is campaigning for a political purpose, whenever it happens.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Local Government is endorsing the flawed approach of weakening the definition of political purposes to only include the duration of election and referendum campaigns. Atheist Ireland will continue to lobby to protect our democracy from the undue influence of big money when the Electoral Commission Bill next comes before the Oireachtas.
The SIPO laws do not prevent anybody from political lobbying. Nor do they prevent anyone from raising any amount of money for political purposes. We just have to raise it through a lot of small donations, not a small number of large donations. The SIPO laws help to make our politics a battle of ideas, not a battle of bank accounts. They need to be strengthened to incorporate religious groups, not weakened for no good reason. Read more…

The Department of Education misuses public funds for in-service training of religion teachers


Atheist Ireland has written to the Minister for Education and the Comptroller and Auditor General about the misuse of public funds for in-service training of religion teachers in conjunction with Roman Catholic Diocesan Advisers. This is the letter that we have sent to the Minister.
We also attach a letter from the then Minister for Education in 2001 which acknowledges that it is not possible to have Diocesan Advisors at inservice courses for Junior Certificate Religious Education and that funding for local inservice by Diocesan Advisors is not possible.
Dear Minister Foley,
We are seeking information on the amount of State funds used over the years for in-service between the Religious Education Support Service, the PDST and the Catholic Church. We believe that this is a misuse of public funds. It is also an endowment of religion forbidden by Article 44.2.2 of the Constitution and religious discrimination under Article 44.2.3. We are also making a formal complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General in relation to the misuse of public funds.
The Information Commissioner has recently ruled in favour of Mr. John Hamill of the Freethought Prophet podcast and blog that the Department of Education was not justified in refusing access to certain records relating to the PDST on the grounds that they are not held by the Department or do not exist or cannot be found.
The PDST are jointly presenting at in-service for curriculum Religious Education teachers alongside Catholic Diocesan Advisers. The curriculum Religion Teachers who attend these in-service days are from schools under Catholic patronage as well as ETB schools and colleges including non designated Community Colleges. As far as we are aware the PDST do not present or attend any other in-service days with other religions or beliefs.
Curriculum Religious Education is a core subject in the vast majority of schools. Parents and students are coerced into the course on the basis that it is not religious instruction but religious education despite the fact that the Supreme Court has found that the rights of parents in relation to the Religious and moral education of their children under Article 42.1 must be read in conjunction with Article 44.2.4, the right to not attend religious instruction (Justice Barrington, Campaign case 1998).
Diocesan Advisers are employees of local Catholic dioceses whose concern is the catechetical programme in post primary schools. Their primary role is to ensure that the provisions for teaching religious instruction and formation are upheld, particularly in terms of content and in terms of timetabling allocations. Diocesan Advisers organise an annual in-service for the religious education teachers of a diocese.
This gathering introduces teachers to leading speakers in the catechetics of faith development. Diocesan Advisers also organise other less formal in-services which are arranged on a local (school cluster) basis. See “The Role of the Diocesan Advisor for Post-Primary Religious Education” published by the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference in 2004. See press release.
A recent article in the Sunday Times and Irish Examiner has focused on the fact that a curriculum Religious Education teacher was given an anti abortion video as a resource for curriculum RE during in-service between the Catholic Church and the PDST.
When curriculum Religious Education was introduced it was made clear by the then Minster, Michael Woods, to Fr. Donal O’Neill, Chairperson of the National Association of Post Primary Diocesan Advisers co-ordinators that it was not possible to have Diocesan Advisers present at in-service courses for Junior Certificate Religious education and why funding for local in-service by Diocesan Advisers was not possible. We attach below this letter from 2001.
We are also providing a link to an article by Mr. John Hamill of the Freethought Prophet podcast and blog, who has been trying for years to get information on these particular in-service courses. This article refers to comments by Noel Farrell, an Assistant Principal Officer within the Department of Education and Skills (DoES) who has described the position of the PDST at these events as providing curriculum and pedagogical expertise. He stated that there were no documents in relation to reports or payments because these were not PDST events.
The PDST was established in 2010 and is funded by the Teacher Education Section of the Department of Education and is managed by Dublin West Education Centre. The attendance of the PDST at any in-service events organised by the Diocesan Advisers uses state resources because the staff are paid by the State and there are also transport cost involved. In addition curriculum RE teachers are paid by the state to attend in-service for Catholic faith formation and instruction.
The Department of Education are aware that PDST staff who are funded by the Department are providing curriculum and pedagogical expertise for curriculum Religious Education teachers at events organised by Catholic Diocesan Advisers for a Catholic catechetical programme in post primary schools whose primary role is to ensure that the provisions for teaching Catholic religious instruction and formation are upheld. Read more…

RE is not compulsory


Curriculum Religious Education at Junior Certificate level is not compulsory. If schools inform you that it is then they are just trying to force your child to take religion. You have a Constitutional right to ensure that your child does not attend any type of religious and moral education that is against your conscience.

Schools have no right to question why you object to curriculum religious education because of GDPR and also because you have a right to privacy. Read sample letters on how to exercise your right not to attend RE…

Under Article 42 of the Constitution parents have a right to ensure their children do not attend any type of religious education that is against their conscience. The Supreme Court has said that this right must be read in conjunction with Article 44.2.4, the right to not attend religious instruction.
The Supreme Court has linked religious formation (Art 42.4)to religious education under Article 42.1. The Supreme Court has said that parents need not settle merely for religious instruction Article 44.2.4 but have a right to religious education. This is why it does not make any legal sense when schools and teachers claim the curriculum religion is not religious instruction but religious education and therefore the opt out does not apply. This is just made up nonsense to force students to take religion.
It is not up to schools or teachers to decide for parents what is or is not against their conscience. It is not constitutionally permissible for a chaplain or a teacher to instruct a child in a religion other than it’s own without the consent and permission of its parents. Making curriculum religious education a core subject undermines the rights of parents and the right to freedom of conscience.

It is not up to @NormaFoleyTD1 or @NCCAie ,schools, teachers to decide what Religious & moral education is suitable for your child. That constitutional right belongs to parents & Supreme Court has upheld that right. Don’t let schools & teachers force your child into curriculum RE

The Catholic Church rejects the human rights based Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about religion & beliefs in schools. Second level curriculum Religious Education is not objective because the Catholic Church would reject it and not let it into any schools under their control

The High Court has said that Religious Education under Article 42.1 of the Constitution (the rights of parents) refers to the teaching of religious doctrine, apologetics, religious history and comparative religions. The Supreme Court went on to say that Article 44.2.4 (the right to not attend religious instruction) must be read in the context of Article 42.1.

Claiming that the term religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 of Constitution is only associated with the teaching of the rites of one religion and therefore the right to not attend does not apply has no legal basis and is contrary to what the courts have said.

Students have a Constitutional right under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution to not attend curriculum Religion or any type of religious teaching.

Calling concerned teachers

If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at

List of Atheist Ireland Submissions

Buy this book “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”

**Schools Special Offer**
Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about godsfree (excluding postage and packaging).  This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more…

Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.

Lessons about Atheism

Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans here

Be Good without Gods

Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of  $33,625 to 1170 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner’s social and secular rating here.

Atheist Ireland’s ‘‘ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1872 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here

Petition on Schools Equality PACT 

Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition – The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,083 Help us reach it’s target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.

Tell us what you think

Have you any feedback that you would like to give us on the Secular Sunday newsletter. What are we getting right? What could we improve on? Is there something you would like to see included? Drop us an email at

Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.

Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:

  • You can help to build an ethical and secular Ireland.
  • You have a say in determining policy and electing officers.
  • You can attend members meetings and our AGM.
  • You will have access to our members only Facebook group
  • Your membership fee will go towards supporting our many campaigns.

You can join Atheist Ireland here.

Thank you for your continued support

Atheist Ireland Committee


Opinion and Media

Material on atheism, secularism, human rights,politics,science etc. collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement. We aim to include a variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints.


Blogs & Opinions




Training Public Teachers To Evangelise Catholicism

By John Hamill from the Freethought Prophet


The Irish State is using public money to impose Catholicism on other people’s children. They don’t admit to this and in fact, they repeatedly claim in public statements that they are not involved in any such faith formation. However, they’re lying about that, and Atheist Ireland have recently uncovered additional documents that demonstrate they know what they’re doing is wrong. Read more…

Should we expect Catholic schools to transmit faith?

By Brian Mooney


The recent statement by Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell that evidence of Christian belief in Ireland today has for all intents and purposes vanished highlights the problem faced by those of us tasked with the management of Catholic schools. What are the implications for our core responsibility for transmission of faith?. Read more…

Catholic bishops to ‘reflect’ on Minister’s request for land for housing

By Patsy McGarry


The Catholic Primate, Archbishop Eamon Martin, has responded to a letter from Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien asking the church to identify property it owns that could potentially be used for housing. He told the Minister he would “consider its content carefully and will, in consultation with his brother bishops, reflect on it during the autumn general meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in October”. Read more…

Redress for abuse in religious institutions falls short of 2009 commitments

By Patsy McGarry


Religious congregations which ran orphanages, reformatories, and industrial schools for children have yet to fulfil the terms of two agreements reached with the State on redress awarded to people who suffered abuse in the institutions, and related legal costs. Current figures indicate the total redress and legal costs combined come to €1.211 billion. Read more…

Taoiseach tells left-handed man beatings he got in primary school were ‘wrong’

By Kitty Holland


The Taoiseach has described the beatings inflicted on a left-handed Galway man when he was in national school, as “wrong” and something that “should not have been tolerated”. Micheál Martin wrote to Gerry Kavanagh (60), who lives just outside Galway city, last week. This followed several contacts by Mr Kavanagh to his office seeking acknowledgement of the abuse he suffered in the then Scoil Íosogáin in Galway city in 1965 and 1966. Read more…


NMH work halted in control row

By Justine McCarthy


The start of construction on the new €500 million National Maternity Hospital (NMH) has been delayed after HSE board members rejected its proposed governance structure for fear it will give control of the facility to St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG). The emergence of the latest deadlock in the relocation of the NMH from its “Dickensian” building in Holles Street, Dublin, has raised fresh doubts about the future of the project. Read more…




Subsidizing religion costs US taxpayers

By Tom Waddell


Churches want to turn American democracy upside down by advocating for representation without taxation. To meet the requirements of tax-exempt nonprofits, churches and secular 501(c)(3) charitable organizations “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate at all in campaign activity for or against political candidates.”  Read more…

Harvard’s Atheist-Chaplain Controversy

By Nick Paumgarten


At the end of August, the Times ran a story about a Harvard chaplain named Greg Epstein, an avowed atheist and “humanist rabbi,” who had been selected by his fellow-chaplains at the university (there are more than thirty of them, of diverse faiths) to serve as their president. Here was an ivory-tower man-bites-dog tale that elicited some context about the ascendancy of secularism, both at a particular institution (one founded, almost four centuries ago, essentially as a seminary) and in the culture at large. “We don’t look to a god for answers,” Epstein told the paper. “We are each other’s answers.” Read more…

Peers back bill to end compulsory worship in non-faith schools

By The National Secular Society


A majority of peers have supported a bill to end the duty on non-faith schools in England and Wales to hold daily acts of Christian worship, and instead require them to hold inclusive assemblies. A private member’s bill, introduced by Liberal Democrat peer Lorely Burt (pictured), was subject to a debate in the Lords on Friday. The bill will now proceed to committee stage. Read more…

Culture isn’t an excuse for inaction, says Nazir Afzal in NSS lecture

By The National Secular Society


Culture shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction on issues such as forced marriage, honour-based violence and child sexual abuse, the former prosecutor Nazir Afzal has said in a National Secular Society lecture. Afzal, who worked as chief crown prosecutor for the north-west of England, reflected on his distinguished career as he delivered the NSS’s 2021 Bradlaugh Lecture at Manchester Art Gallery on Saturday. Read more…

Indonesia mosque attack is a reminder that Ahmadi Muslims’ human rights need defending

By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid


After a mob attacked an Ahmadi Muslim mosque in Indonesia and anti-Ahmadi rallies took place in Pakistan, Kunwar Khuldune Shahid says the failure to defend this marginalised group has far-reaching implications. On Friday, a mosque was attacked in Sintang district of Indonesia’s West Kalimantan Province, by an Islamist mob of at least 200 people. Read more…

Fundamentalists are still being given too much of a free pass on child abuse

By Richard Scorer


The IICSA inquiry’s latest report on child abuse in religious organisations and settings provides welcome evidence of significant problems – but is still too light on much-needed solutions, says Richard Scorer. Read more…

If you are a blogger or vlogger writing or talking about atheism, secularism, ethics, skepticism, human rights etc. and would like us to include your work here please email the link to

Podcasts, Videos and Interviews


Do you host an Irish-based podcast on atheism, secularism, science, skepticism, human rights etc.? Let us know and we will link to it here.



Freethought Radio – Dennett Double Header
The Friendly Atheist Podcast – A Christian Misogynist and the “Downcline” of Morality
The National Secular Society – The Assisted Dying Bill 2021

*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=4ORK-TKay-Q]|*

Media Watch

News and views from Ireland and around the world. Sharing is not an endorsement. 




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