Religious oaths and the Council of State


Sir, – Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland (Letters, April 8th) called for an end to the constitutional requirement for members of the Council of State (and the President and all judges) to take a religious oath on taking up their offices. As a former member of the Council of State I would like to support this call, not just on behalf of atheists, but also agnostics, humanists, members of religious groups who do not approve of such oaths, and persons who just think that this is unnecessary and exclusionary in a modern, secular and increasingly diverse society.

As long ago as 1993 the UN Human Rights Committee, when examining Ireland’s human rights record, expressed concern that this requirement “excludes some people from holding those offices”. And, as Mr Nugent noted, the Human Rights Committee repeated its concern, rather more urgently, in 2014. The European Court of Human Rights also held in the case of Buscarini & Others v San Marino in 1999 (24645/94 [1999] ECHR 7) that a similar oath for members of the San Marino Parliament was in breach of article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

If this exclusionary requirement is not repealed, it will be only a matter of time before it is challenged in the courts. It would be a lot better if we removed it by popular vote than if we have to be ordered to do so by the courts, either here or in Strasbourg. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.