Irish Council of State: Atheists need not apply
Many people are aware that the Irish Constitution requires the President and judges to swear a religious oath. Many people are unaware that this also applies to the Council of State, which includes the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Chief Justice, the President of Court of Appeal, the President of High Court, the Chairman of Dáil Éireann, the Chairman of Seanad Éireann, the Attorney General, previous holders of high office, and citizens nominated by the President.
This religious oath is written into Article 31 of the Constitution, so there is no possibility of making a declaration instead. It will take a referendum to change this. This high office is not available in Ireland to conscientious atheists, as we are constitutionally obliged to swear to a god we don’t believe exists.
A decade ago, after Atheist Ireland raised the issue with him, the then Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who is agnostic, sought and received legal advice that he had to swear this religious oath in order to remain as Tánaiste. This is because being a member of the Council of State is a constitutional requirement of being Tánaiste, so he could not simply decline that role.
Back then, six of the President’s seven nominees to the Council called for this oath (and the oaths for President and judges0 to be amended. They said that the issue came to their attention at the first meeting of the Council of State under President Higgins with regard to Eamon Gilmore’s dilemma. A decade later, nothing has changed.
So, when you hear anyone claim that Ireland is a ‘cold place for Catholics’, remind them of the privilege that religious people have over atheists in our Republic. This is a breach of the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief.
Ireland is a cold place for atheists, as we are discriminated against on religious grounds and when we complain we are often told “sure it doesn’t matter, just say the words”. Why does anyone believe it is in order to take up high office in Ireland with a lie?
This is Article 31 of the Constitution.
Article 31.1 – There shall be a Council of State to aid and counsel the President on all matters on which the President may consult the said Council in relation to the exercise and performance by him of such of his powers and functions as are by this Constitution expressed to be exercisable and performable after consultation with the Council of State, and to exercise such other functions as are conferred on the said Council by this Constitution.
Article 31.2 – The Council of State shall consist of the following members:
(i) As ex-officio members: the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Chief Justice, the President of the Court of Appeal, the President of the High Court, the Chairman of Dáil Éireann, the Chairman of Seanad Éireann, and the Attorney General.
(ii) Every person able and willing to act as a member of the Council of State who shall have held the office of President, or the office of Taoiseach, or the office of Chief Justice, or the office of President of the Executive Council of Saorstát Éireann.
(iii) Such other persons, if any, as may be appointed by the President under this Article to be members of the Council of State.
Article 31.3 – The President may at any time and from time to time by warrant under his hand and Seal appoint such other persons as, in his absolute discretion, he may think fit, to be members of the Council of State, but not more than seven persons so appointed shall be members of the Council of State at the same time.
Article 31.4 – Every member of the Council of State shall at the first meeting thereof which he attends as a member take and subscribe a declaration in the following form:
“In the presence of Almighty God I do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfil my duties as a member of the Council of State.”