First meeting between Government and atheist group to take place

Lobby organisation to advocate for secular constitution and education system

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: Will attend the meeting which is part of the dialogue with churches, faith communities and non-confessional bodies set up in February 2007. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The first formal meeting between a taoiseach and members of an atheist advocacy group in the history of the State is set to take place this Tuesday evening.

The meeting is part of the structured dialogue with churches, faith communities and non-confessional bodies set up in February 2007.

It will be attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Education Jan O'Sullivan, Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland as well as an atheist teacher, an atheist parent and an atheist student.

The advocacy group will explain how Ireland breaches the human rights of 340,000 people in the State who, according to the 2011 census, did not identify with any religion. They will illustrate how the Constitution, the education system and Irish laws and practices systemically discriminate against atheists.


Changes they seek will include equal respect for the rights of all citizens to freedom of conscience, religion or belief; equality before the law and freedom from discrimination.

Relevant constitutional Articles, international human rights treaties, and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights which show what the State has to do to fulfil its obligations under human rights law, will be brought to the Taoiseach and Minister’s attention.

Specifically, the group will call for the removal of religious oaths for those assuming public office and for a referendum in the lifetime of this Government to remove blasphemy from the Constitution.

Model schools

They will also call for the prohibition of access to schools based on religion or belief as well as a ban on religious discrimination where employees in education and health are concerned. This should happen immediately in the case of model schools under Department of Education patronage, they will argue.

Launching the dialogue process in Dublin Castle on February 26th, 2007, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the State must "equally be alive to the rights and position of those who do not subscribe to religious faith. Many have contributed to building up Irish society and to the quality of our democracy, and the humanity of our society, from a philosophical basis which owes little or nothing to religious belief or practice. "It is a special care for governments in a society like ours – where religious belief and practice has shaped so much of our culture and institutions – to respect and provide for, and engage with and listen to, those who articulate public positions from such a perspective. The dialogue process which we are inaugurating today includes, as a core and defining feature, engagement with that important and growing section of Irish society."

He added: “We live in a pluralist society, where doubt and disbelief exist side-by-side with an increasing diversity of faiths.”

On Tuesday, between 12 noon and 3 pm, Atheist Ireland will hold a briefing session for TDs and Senators in the boardroom at Dublin’s Buswells Hotel on the issues they will raise with the Taoiseach and Minister.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times