Annual Report and Agenda for Atheist Ireland AGM, 20 October 2012

by Michael Nugent on October 19, 2012

This is the Annual Report and Agenda for Atheist Ireland’s fourth Annual General Meeting, which will take place tomorrow, Saturday,20 October 2012, from 2-5 pm in Buswell’s Hotel on Molesworth Street, Dublin.

We’ll be reviewing our activity for the last year, and planning our priorities for the next year. All members of Atheist Ireland may attend, and you can join or renew your membership on the day (annual membership is €25, or €10 for students or the unwaged.)

Hope to see you there!

Agenda for 2012 Atheist Ireland AGM

1. Report of Activities since 2011 AGM
2. Political Submissions since 2011 AGM
3. Financial Report for 2011
4. Committee Elections 2012

5. Priorities and Plans for 2013
(a) Major Political Priorities
(b) Policy on Ethical Issues
(c) Making Atheist Ireland Inclusive
(d) Women in Secularism Conference
(e) Good Without Gods Initiative
(f) Local Atheist Ireland Groups
(g) Strategy Review for 5th AGM

1. Report of Activities since 2011 AGM

Our last AGM took place in Cork in April 2011. This is our review at that AGM of the previous year’s activities. http://bit.ly/R7glzo Since then, we have done the following:

  1. In April 2011, we concluded our campaign to ask people to be honest in answering the question about religion in the 2011 census.
  2. In May 2011, we highlighted the issue of discrimination against nonreligious parents who cannot opt their child out of religious instruction in Catholic primary schools, with a successful media campaign led by Jane Donnelly and Martijn Leenheer.
  3. In June 2011, we hosted the World Atheist Convention in Dublin. Speakers included Richard Dawkins, Lone Frank, Michael Nugent, Paula Kirby, PZ Myers, Jane Donnelly, Dan Barker, Rebecca Watson, David Nash, Ivana Bacik, Aroup Chaterjee, Annie Laurie Gaylor USA, Mark Embleton, Stuart Bechman, Thomas Prosser, Nick Lee, Tanya Smith, Bobbie Kirkhart, Tom Melchiorre, Richard Green, Rene Hartmann, Maryam Namazie and Roger Lepeix.
  4. The World Atheist Convention agreed the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life. This covers personal freedoms, secular democracy, secular education, and one law for all. http://bit.ly/QvlhMV.
  5. The World Atheist Convention also launched the newly re-structured Atheist Alliance International. Atheist Ireland member Conor McGrath was on the committee that drafted the new constitution for Atheist Alliance International.
  6. In September 2011, Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly met with the Department of the Taoiseach for Atheist Ireland to become a partner in the dialogue process with religious and philosophical groups, and specifically to discuss the impact of secular issues on laws and practices of the incoming coalition Government.
  7. In September 2011, we attended the Department of Education’s Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector. We were there to elaborate on, and answer questions about, the written submission that Atheist Ireland previously made to the Forum.
  8. In October 2011, Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly took part in the annual OSCE Human Rights Meeting in Warsaw. This is the first time an Irish atheist advocacy group has taken part in an OSCE event. We highlighted the need for a secular Irish Constitution, education system and laws where the state is neutral about religion.
  9. In October 2011, we published responses to letters that we had sent to the candidates in the Irish Presidential Election, asking their positions on secular issues. We had previously done this with the political parties and candidates at the last General Election.
  10. In November 2011, we hosted a successful lunchtime lecture in Dublin by Professor AC Grayling, on the topic Setting Prometheus Free.
  11. In December 2011, Michael Nugent wrote an article for the Irish Independent about the human right to a secular education. It included the key points that Atheist Ireland made in our response to the interim report of the Forum for Patronage and Pluralism in Irish Education.
  12. In January 2012, we launched a weekly email newsletter called Secular Sunday, edited by Derek Walsh, which includes information about our own activities and those of other secular groups and developments in Ireland and internationally.
  13. In January 2012, we hosted “Is Anything Sacred?”, a public discussion of Irish and international blasphemy laws, with two world-class experts on blasphemy law: Austin Dacey from New York and and Professor David Nash of Oxford Brookes University in England.
  14. In January 2012, we had a first informal meeting to plan setting up up a new Atheist Ireland Cork group. When it is launched, this group will lobby Cork politicians, monitor Cork media, and arrange events in Cork.
  15. In January 2012, we launched a document titled five steps to civil rights in a secular Ireland. Atheist Ireland is lobbying to promote these proposals on an ongoing basis.http://bit.ly/T2cOic
  16. In February 2012, we called for the abolition of social welfare grants for Holy Communion and Confirmation, which contravenes the Constitutional requirement that the State should not endow any religion.
  17. In February 2012, we had a briefing session in Leinster House with TDs and Senators, at which we highlighted the dangers of the Irish blasphemy law and its impact internationally. As a result of this briefing, Senator Ivana Bacik and Jillian van Turnhout raised the issue in the Seanad, including the case of Alexander Aan.
  18. In February 2012, we attended a briefing session at the Dept of Foreign Affairs on Ireland’s Fourth Periodic Report under the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We raised the issues of the Irish Education system, Blasphemy, Religious oaths, Equality and non-discrimination and the Rights of the Child.
  19. In February 2012 we met two delegations from the Council of Europe: one from the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance and the other from the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
  20. In February 2012, we wrote to the Committees on Procedure and Privilege of both houses of the Oireachtas requesting an end to daily prayers. The Seanad ended up adopting a motion to add a 30 second period of “private reflection” before the existing public Christian prayer which remains unchanged.
  21. In March 2012, we met with Hibernia College to discuss the course notes that made untrue statements about atheism and atheists. The meeting was productive. The relevant course notes have been removed, and Michael Nugent is preparing an initial one-hour introductory lesson for Hibernia College on atheism and nonreligious ethics.
  22. In March 2012, we attended a conference in Limerick titled Towards Mutual Ground: Religious Pluralism in Educational Practice in Irish Schools. It was organised by Mater Dei and Mary Immaculate College. While it was useful overall, two speakers suggested that atheists are not fully human.
  23. In March 2012, we attended a conference organised by Amnesty International, about the Government’s proposed constitutional convention. This follows on from various meetings and a political briefing in which rights-based NGOs are working together on this issue.
  24. On April 1st, Secular Sunday published a guest column by John Waters on how he had found religion without God, courtesy of a metaphorical transubstantiation of his spiritual essence into a literal communion with reality that only a fool could doubt. Yes, on April 1st.
  25. In May 2012, we attended a consultation at the Department of Foreign Affairs on the Draft Irish State Report to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights.
  26. In May 2012, we attended a seminar on freedom of religion and belief organised by the Irish Network Against Racism, also known as ENAR Ireland.
  27. In May 2012, Michael Nugent took part in a panel discussion following a talk by Sir John Houghton on God, Science and Global Warming, at the inaugural event of the Faith and Science Partnership in Armagh.
  28. In May 2012, Michael Nugent spoke about international blasphemy laws at the European Atheist Convention in Cologne, Germany. Several Atheist Ireland members attended the Convention, and we made many useful contacts for future co-operation.
  29. In June 2012, we supported LGBT Noise in their protest outside the Catholic Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, against the ongoing efforts by the Catholic Church to oppose equal civil rights for LGBT people.
  30. In June 2012, we attended the fifth anniversary event of the founding of the Council of Ex Muslims in Britain. Speakers included AC Grayling, Lawrence Krauss and Maryam Namazie.
  31. In June 2012, we joined more than twenty rights-based groups in supporting an open letter, coordinated by Amnesty International Ireland, asking the Government to include all fundamental human rights on the agenda of the proposed Constitutional Convention.
  32. In July 2012, we started plans to organise an international Women in Secularism conference in Dublin next year. See more details at item 5(d) of this report.
  33. In July 2012, we started plans to organise a community outreach group to do good things for the community without religious influence. See more details at item 5(e) of this report.
  34. In July 2012, we raised with the Minister for Education Document No. 154 of material, released to RTE under the Freedom of Information Act, about moral values being taught within a religious context in VEC community schools.
  35. In August 2012, we sent a donation to the Freedom From religion Foundation in America, to give to the Milwakee Irish Fest collection for Milwaukee Hunger Task Force, after the FFRF had caused the Irish Fest to end an illegal discrimination against non-Catholics in their admission charges.
  36. In August 2012, Irish civil society groups asked the Government to include twelve nominees on the expert panel for the coming Constitutional Convention. The nominees include Michael Nugent and David Nash on the topic of blasphemy; and Michael Nugent on the wider issue of Constitutional recognition of separation of church and state.
  37. In September 2012, our Kiva Team, one of the first initiatives of our Good Without Gods project, had raised over US$2,000 in loans to people working to escape poverty.
  38. In October 2012, Michael Nugent, Jane Donnelly and David Nash attended the OSCE Human Rights Meeting in Warsaw, Europe’s largest annual human rights and democracy conference. This was our second year taking part in this event, and as well as addressing the main session we also hosted a side event on blasphemy laws, religious oaths, secular education and protecting the human rights of atheists and agnostics.
  39. In October 2012 we attended a Consultation by the Dept of Foreign Affairs on the State Report to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  40. In October 2012, Brendan Maher set up an information table outside the GPO in O’Connell Street providing information about atheism, humanism and secularism to combat the religious propaganda that is promoted there every week. He will be there from 12:00 to 2:00 pm on first Saturday of every month.
  41. During the past year, Derek Walsh has been editing and publishing our weekly email newsletter Secular Sunday, which includes information about our own activities and those of other secular groups and developments in Ireland and internationally.
  42. During the past year, we have continued to raise cases internationally of atheists, Christians and Muslims who are jailed or facing execution for blasphemy in Islamic countries. In particular, we are focusing on the cases of Alexander Aan in Indonesia, Hamza Kashgari in Saudi Arabia, Asia Bibi in Pakistan, and Sanal Edamaruku in India.
  43. During the past year, Michael Nugent and/or Jane Donnelly have been on RTE’s Late Late Show, The Front Line, and Beyond Belief programmes, and on TV3’s morning Ireland. They have also spoken on numerous radio shows on RTE, BBC Northern Ireland, Newstalk and other stations.
  44. During the past year, Michael Nugent has taken part in numerous talks and debates in Ireland and the UK, with Christian and Muslim spokespersons as well as academics and politicians, and at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin and the European Atheist Conference in Cologne. http://bit.ly/WH5cXN
  45. During the past year, Harry Guinness has hosted Dublin Atheist in the Pub events with Roger Yates of Vegan Ireland on Veganism; Patty Gray from NUI Maynooth on the Pussy Riot trial in Russia; Victor Diac from Romania on leaving the Eastern Orthodox clergy; Vahid Bokharaie on Islam and being an Iranian atheist; Aoife McLysaght of TCD Genetics Dept on atheism and science; Sinead Redmond on the recent pro-choice campaign; Jen McCreight (Blag Hag) on atheism and feminism; David Horgan on his movie Jesus The Remake; Geoff Lillis on his encounters with Dublin street preachers; and Louise Hannon of Transgender Equality Network Ireland. http://bit.ly/RZf3V0

2. Political Submissions since 2011 AGM

We have made twelve written political submissions since our 2011 AGM:

  1. June 2011 – Submission to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism. http://bit.ly/Th8TV2
  2. August 2011 – Submission to the Catholic Schools Partnership on Catholic Schools in the Republic of Ireland – A position Paper. http://bit.ly/R7eniy
  3. October 2011 – Submission to the Government on the State Report to the UN under the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. http://bit.ly/XvmNS7
  4. October 2011 – Submission to the Discussion Paper on a Regulatory Framework for school Enrolment. http://bit.ly/QyAxGz
  5. November 2011 – Submission to United Nations under the Universal Periodic Review. http://bit.ly/WuldBP
  6. November 2011 – Submission on the New Human Rights and Equality Commission. http://bit.ly/QviBPg
  7. December 2011 – Ensuring effective remedies for an objective, critical and pluraistic secular education: Submission on the Report from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism. http://bit.ly/Wulvc4
  8. February 2012 – Submission to the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance. http://bit.ly/Tzzvv3
  9. March 2012 – Submission to the Council of Europe under the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities. http://bit.ly/T28fED
  10. May 2012 – Submission to the Government on the State Report to the UN under the Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. http://bit.ly/OMzxTe
  11. June 2012 – Submission to the National Council on Curriculum and Assessment. http://bit.ly/Wumf0E
  12. October 2012 – Submission to the OSCE on blasphemy laws, religious oaths, secular education and protecting the human rights of atheists and agnostics.

3. Financial Report for 2011

In round figures, our finances for the calendar year 2011 were:

  • Balance brought from 2010: €7,901
  • Income during 2011: €41,180
  • Expenditure during 2011: €35,013
  • Net balance for 2011: €6,167
  • Balance carried to 2012: €14,068

The most notable financial item from 2011 is that most of our income (€33,055) and expenditure (€29,323) related to our hosting of the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in June 2011. This event made a profit of just over €4,000, which was divided between us and Atheist Alliance International. We had 312 paid-up members during the calendar year of 2011, generating membership income of €6,585. We also received €414 in donations. Three items cost almost or above €1,000 each: our AC Grayling lecture, our lobbying at the OSCE Human Rights meeting in Warsaw, and our Paypal fees.

We will have full details at the AGM, plus an up-to-date record of our current financial position.

4. Committee Elections 2012

Under our constitution, we elect four committee officers at each AGM (Chairperson, Secretary, Finance and Regional) and the committee then co-opts other members to fill other positions as required.

This year we have had one nomination each for the four elected positions, so the following four people will be returned unopposed:

  • Chairperson – Michael Nugent
  • Secretary – Helen O’Shea
  • Finance – Steven Duggan
  • Regional – Derek Walsh

The current co-opted committee members are

  • Jane Donnelly – Education, Women in Secularism
  • Martijn Leenheer – Education
  • Leonie Hilliard – Women in Secularism
  • Vivienne Trulock – Good Without Gods
  • Peter Burke – Good Without Gods

And our two current Regional Representatives are

  • Dublin – Harry Guinness
  • Cork – Joe O’Regan

If you would like to be a committee member, please let us know at the AGM and we can work out what new positions we should create to suit the policy interests and levels of expertise that we have available.

5. Priorities and Plans for 2013

(a) Major Political Priorities

Our major political priorities for the next year include:

  • Dublin Declaration on Secularism
  • Five Steps to a Secular State
  • Campaign for Secular Education
  • Dialogue with Irish Government
  • Constitutional Convention
  • Dialogue with International Bodies
  • International Blasphemy Laws
  • Working with Atheist Alliance International

(b) Policy on Ethical Issues

At our 2010 AGM we decided that, as well as promoting our aims in a positive way, we will also highlight incidents where we believe religions or religious representatives are behaving unethically; and that our position on issues such as abortion and euthanasia is that society should address these issues based on human rights and compassion, and applying reason to empirical evidence, and not on religious doctrines.

Today we want to discuss to what extent should Atheist Ireland take a more specific stand on such issues? And to what extent should we work together with other campaign groups to jointly promote our shared interests in an ethical society?

Also, on the wider question of ethics, Michael Nugent has published a draft manifesto to promote ethical atheism. This is a discussion document that we can use as a starting point for examining this issue in the coming months. http://bit.ly/T42aM3

(c) Making Atheist Ireland Inclusive

We have started to consciously try to make Atheist Ireland as inclusive and friendly and welcoming as possible for existing and potential members. As part of this:

We are trying to be inclusive, caring and supportive for people of all races, genders, sexualities and abilities. This includes developing policies on how to help people to feel safe and enjoy themselves at our activities. We have already instituted a policy of hosting our events in wheelchair-friendly venues. Atheist Alliance International has also published an anti-harassment policy and is asking member organisations to adopt either it or something similar to it. http://bit.ly/TxcOqS

We are trying to include people of diverse backgrounds on our organizing committees and event panels, so that we gain from the variety of life perspectives that this brings to our decision making and our events. In particular, we are aiming for a reasonable gender balance in our activities.

We want to continue with, and expand, our Atheists in the Pub events, and also host family-friendly weekend events, which could include visits to museums as well as outdoor activities, or even informal Sunday brunches. The more types of activities that we are organising, the more options that different people will have to be able to attend at least one of them.

(d) Women in Secularism Conference

Atheist Ireland is organising an international Women in Secularism conference in Dublin next year. It will discuss how religious influence in society affects women’s rights, and how to make secular groups welcoming to women who want to influence change. We will have speakers from Ireland, Britain, Europe and beyond.

We want the event to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible, discussing the different perspectives that secular women have on relevant issues, and working together to influence positive change. If you would like to get involved in any way, please let us know, as we’re now starting planning meetings and fundraising events.

(e) Good Without Gods Initiative

We have started a community outreach group to do good things for the community without religious influence. We’ll be organising charity events, visiting people in institutions, responding to requests for help where we can provide it, and generally being good without gods! Please let us know if you want to take part in our activities.

So far, our Kiva Team, one of our first initiatives, has raised over US$2,000 in loans to people working to escape poverty

(f) Organizational Priorities

We want to increase our active and paid-up membership this year. This will enable us to be more effective in all of our activities.

We want to build on the success of the Secular Sunday newsletter, by consolidating and improving our online presence.

We want to establish local groups around the country, as well as establishing formal links with other secular groups around the country. Our Dublin group is headed by Harry Guinness who can be contacted at dublin@atheist.ie. Our Cork group is headed by Joe O’Regan who can be contacted at cork@atheist.ie. We have members interested in starting groups in Galway, Limerick and Sligo.

(g) Strategy Review for 5th AGM

This time next year, Atheist Ireland will be five years old. We want to spend some time this year looking at how our structure and activities have served us to date, and to see if we need to change our constitution and organisation to more effectively pursue our aims.

We would also like to work towards a high-profile fifth birthday fundraising event, to be held at the end of November 2013, to celebrate our achievements to date and launch our priorities for the following five years.

Please attend and help shape our plans

The AGM will take place tomorrow, Saturday 20 October 2012, from 2-5 pm in Buswell’s Hotel on Molesworth Street, Dublin.

All members of Atheist Ireland may attend, and you can join or renew your membership on the day (annual membership is €25, or €10 for students or the unwaged.)

Hope to see you there!

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