As the British House of Lords debated the right to assisted dying yesterday, I discussed the issue on Newstalk Radio with Shane Coleman, Dave McIntyre and Ciara Kelly.

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The UN Human Rights Committee has just published the Irish Government’s written response to the questions that they were asked in Geneva this week.

The Government gave no additional information on religious oaths or blasphemy, and it evaded several specific questions that the UN asked it about religious discrimination against atheists and minority faith families in the education system.

These questions included:

  • Why has the Government not yet changed the obligatory religious oaths for Judges, which was first raised by the UN as a breach of human rights in 1993?
  • Will the state also change the obligatory religious oaths for president and others as well as judges?
  • Why has the Irish Government not responded to the UN on its commitment to remove the Irish blasphemy law?
  • The UN previously asked Ireland to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions of Ireland. Why has this not yet happened, with most new schools being multi denominational, not non-denominational?
  • Ireland said that there was no obstacle to non-denominational schools if there was sufficient demand in a local area. The UN asked how can insufficient demand be used to justify no provision of nondenominational schools?
  • The UN also asked, with regard to denominational schools, does the State believe it is required to ensure a neutral teaching environment outside of the religious instruction classes that children can be opted out of?
  • Specifically, the UN asked will the State remove Rule 68 of National Schools, which enforces an integrated religious curriculum?
  • The UN previously asked the State to provide information on steps being taken to ensure that the right of children of minority religions or non-faith are recognised in the Education Act 1998. The UN now asked how does the State explain the compatibility with Covenant obligations of private schools with near monopoly of providing a vital public service being allowed to openly discriminate against children on the basis of their parents religious convictions?
  • With regard to the new Admissions to Schools Bill, the UN asked are non-faith families still discriminated against in admission to schools under this Bill?
  • The Government is proposing a new Bill on Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which allows religious schools to discriminate against teachers on the ground of religion. The UN asked how does this Bill protect atheist teachers, as distinct from LGBT teachers? This is the first time that this issue has been raised by the UN, and it was raised on the basis of the concerns expressed by Atheist Ireland in our briefing.

Atheist Ireland will be sending further information to the UN Human Rights Committee about the questions that Ireland has not answered. The UN Human Rights Committee will publish its concluding observations next Thursday.

For now, here is the text of the Government’s written response to the questions about education.

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The UN Human Rights Committee has just published the Irish Government’s written response to the questions that they were asked in Geneva this week. They did not respond to all of the questions they were asked. They responded to some of the questions they were asked, on the following topics:

  • Question 1 – Domestic implementation of international obligations
  • Question 10 – Prosecutions for child abuse arising from the Ryan Report
  • Question 12 – Abortion
  • Question 13 – Prisons: capacity and alternatives to detention
  • Question 19 – Mental health
  • Question 22(e) – Direct Provision
  • Question 23 – Special Criminal Court
  • Question 26 – Access to education for non-faith and minority faith children
  • Question 29 -  The Roma Community
  • Additional topics – Symphysiotomy and Mother and baby homes

I’ll write an analysis of it later, with particular emphasis on the issues most directly relevant to Atheist Ireland, and Atheist Ireland will be sending further information to the UN Human Rights Committee about the questions that Ireland has not answered.

The UN Human Rights Committee will publish its concluding observations next Thursday.

For now, here is the full text of the Government’s written response to this week’s questions in Geneva.

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Tanaiste Joan Burton has defied the UN by saying that majority votes can be used to deny human rights, just two day after Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald had withdrawn the same argument after the UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland that it was “totally unacceptable”.

Today’s Irish Independent reports that in the Dail, Joan Burton ruled out an abortion referendum being held in the lifetime of this Government, and gave as her reason that “as democrats everyone must accept the will of the people”.

But just this Tuesday, in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Committee had told Ireland that this was a “totally unacceptable” reason to deny Irish women their right to an abortion consistently with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland that human rights cannot be denied by a majority vote in Parliament or in a referendum, and that the whole point of international human rights law is to avoid the tyranny of the majority.

The UN told Ireland to withdraw that argument as a reason for denying Irish women abortions, and after a break in the session, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald did withdraw it. She accepted that “the will of the people” was not a justified reason to derogate from giving people their human rights under the ICCPR.

Tanaiste Joan Burton should now clarify the situation by publicly withdrawing the argument she made in the Dail. She should recognise, as the Justice Minister did on Tuesday, that human rights cannot be denied by a majority vote in Parliament or in a referendum.

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UN asks Ireland about religious discrimination in education – my interview on 4FM Radio

July 16, 2014

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has asked Ireland about religious discrimination against atheists in in the Irish education system. Atheist Ireland briefed the UN Commitee about this, before the meeting with the Irish Government in Geneva. I discussed this on 4FM Radio when we returned from Geneva.

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Majority votes cannot deny human rights: UN questions to Ireland reflect Atheist Ireland briefing in Geneva

July 16, 2014

Jane Donnelly and I, representing Atheist Ireland, briefed the UN Human Rights Committee this week in Geneva about religious discrimination in Ireland, particularly in the education system. The issues we raised in our briefing were directly reflected in many of the UN’s questions to the Irish State delegation, led by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. Atheist […]

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Atheist Ireland to brief UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Monday

July 12, 2014

On Monday in Geneva, Switzerland, Atheist Ireland will brief the United Nations Human Rights Committee about Ireland’s failure to keep its obligations under an important human rights treaty: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Liberties. On Monday and Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Committee will be quizzing the Irish State delegation, led by Justice […]

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Garth Brooks concert issue takes sinister turn as man says death threats led him to drop High Court case

July 10, 2014

The Irish Independent has reported by far the most serious development in the Garth Brooks concert issue. A citizen has now withdrawn an application to take a High Court case, and he says that he has withdrawn the case after threats were made on his life and his family’s lives. He told the Lord Mayor […]

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Banana Republic returns as Taoiseach publicly undermines planning laws and Tourism Minister is ready to travel to USA

July 10, 2014

It seems that the Taoiseach has deemed his role to include publicly undermining the planning laws by assisting some businesspeople who are dissatisfied with the impartial and lawful decisions of Dublin City Council. And the Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar is bizarrely reported to be prepared to travel to the United States of America if […]

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Latest score from Croke Park: Democracy 2, Garth Brooks Concerts 0 (late own goal by Garth Brooks)

July 8, 2014

Update: Garth Brooks was at first happy to do two concerts in Dublin, he was then given permission to do three instead of five, and now he has decided to do none. His decision to cancel the three concerts that he was given permission for is a matter between him, Aiken Promotions, the GAA, and […]

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