Atheist Ireland annual report and agenda for 2013 AGM

by Michael Nugent on September 21, 2013

1. Report of Activities since 2012 AGM
2. Financial Report for 2012
3. Committee Elections 2013
4. Priorities and Plans for 2013-2014

1. Report of Activities since 2012 AGM

  1. In October 2012, we launched our Good WIthout Gods initiative to encourage charitable and otherwise worthwhile activities by our members and friends. So far we have raised over $4,000 on Kiva loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries.
  2. We attended the launch of the ICCL’s anti-discrimination law review project.
  3. We were featured in an Irish Times article by Joe Humphreys, who attended our 2012 AGM, entitled “Is there a new face of atheism”
  4. In November 2012, we held a strategy workshop to discuss some of the ideas that came up at our AGM.
  5. There was a week of debate in the Irish Times letters page arising from the article “Is there a new face of atheism?”
  6. Jane Donnelly wrote an article on school patronage for The Journal.
  7. Our Facebook page passed 4,000 likes, a 60% increase since the start of 2012. Our Facebook group had 1,500 members. We had 3,500 followers on Twitter. Our YouTube videos had been viewed 350,000 times.
  8. The Irish Times published an article by Michael Nugent titled “Myths about atheism obscure its secular values.”
  9. We hosted a national tour of four public meetings featuring Sanal Edamaruku, the Indian rationalist leader facing blasphemy charges for exposing a supposedly miraculous crying statue as being caused by faulty plumbing. The meetings were in Wynns Hotel in Dublin on 24 Nov, Metropole Hotel in Cork on 25 Nov, NUI Galway on 26 Nov, and Malone Lodge in Belfast on 27 Nov.
  10. While in Cork with Sanal, we paid a visit to Ballinspittle,  site of a grotto where many Catholics claimed a statue of  Their Lady moved. We did some tests and surprisingly found it to be stationary!
  11. In December 2012, we raised concerns about the Civil Registration Bill when it was passed in the Seanad. We asked for it to be amended to treat all religious and secular bodies equally.
  12. We added Irish subtitles to one of our videos (“You have rights, your beliefs do not,” from the 2012 OSCE human rights conference in Warsaw.) The video also has subtitles in English and French.
  13. Atheist Alliance International, to which we are affiliated, launched the Atheist Census project.
  14. We contacted the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to raise concerns that the advisory body for their anti-discrimination law review project not only failed to include the perspective of atheists who are discriminated against, but it included a representative of the Catholic Church that most discriminates against us.
  15. We sent a comprehensive briefing document to all TDs asking them to amend the Civil Registration Amendment Bill to vindicate human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, and equality without discrimination before the law, for religious and nonreligious citizens alike. The Bill was passed without any amendments.
  16. We sent a briefing document to the President and the Council of State asking the President to send the Civil Registration Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. The President signed the Bill into law. We then highlighted the ethical dilemma that this posed for the Humanist Association of Ireland.
  17. In January 2013, Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly represented Atheist Ireland as witnesses at the Oireachtas Health Committee hearing on the forthcoming abortion law, in the session that also included representatives from various churches. (We were faced with a nametab that read “Michael Nugent, Atheist Church”!)
  18. We encouraged parents to complete the survey organised by the Department of Education in some areas about what type of primary school they would like their children to attend. We encouraged parents to vote for an Educate Together school as the currently best available option.
  19. Following the signing into law of the Civil Registration Amendment Act, we wrote several letters to the Registrar General asking how he intends to interpret various clauses in the Act.
  20. We wrote to the Taoiseach requesting to meet him and ministers and officials, under the structured process of dialogue between the Government and churches, faith bodies and non-confessional bodies.
  21. We highlighted the extra discrimination caused in our education system by Catholic Schools Week.
  22. In February 2013, we held the first of our Secular Sunday brunches, which have so far taken place monthly in Dublin, Sligo and sometimes Cork. This resulted from our commitment at our 2012 AGM to host more family-friendly social events.
  23. We received a response from the Department of the Taoiseach saying that his officials would contact us later in 2013 to make arrangements for a bilateral meeting under the structured process of dialogue between the Government and churches, faith bodies and non-confessional bodies.
  24. Andrew Rattigan published an article analysing how a-la-carte Catholicism contributes to the secular agenda in Ireland.
  25. Michael Nugent was on Newstalk discussing philosopher Alain de Botton’s secular 10 commandments and on Radio 1′s God slot debating David Glass, author of Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists.
  26. Michael Nugent debated abortion laws with Youth Defence and others in Limerick
  27. Barbara Monea joined Derek Walsh on the team producing our Secular Sunday email newsletter. Barbara will contribute our weekly news digest.
  28. Michael Nugent took part in a debate on Church and State as part of a Trinity College Dublin forum on “All Faiths and None”.
  29. The compiler of the international Atheist census  sought more responses from Ireland because it had almost enough data for Irish responses to be identified at a statistically meaningful level and to be compared to global results and the results from certain other countries.
  30. In March 2013, tickets went on sale for our international conference in Dublin in June on Empowering Women Through Secularism.
  31. Michael Nugent discussed belief in life after death, and religion generally, on Newstalk Radio, with Jesuit priest Father Peter McVerry and psychiatrist Patricia Casey of the Iona Institute.
  32. Michael Nugent debated Professor David Smith on the subject of end of life care and the right to die, in the Royal College of Surgeons.
  33. In April 2013, when the Humanist Association of Ireland announced the first legal humanist marriage ceremony under the new Act, we asked had they legally denied that they promote a political cause, which the act obliges them to.
  34. We launched a website, Facebook page and twitter account for our forthcoming international conference on Empowering Women Through Secularism.
  35. We published an open letter to Atheist Ireland by Dick Spicer, former chairperson of the HAI, criticizing our approach to the Civil Registration Amendment Act.
  36. Michael Nugent and Jen Keane were on 98FM discussing whether teaching children religion as fact amounts to child abuse.
  37. In May 2013, we published a response to the open letter from Dick Spicer, in which we argued that Atheist Ireland and the HAI should be working together to campaign politically for a ethical, secular state.
  38. Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly wrote a chapter on secular education and human rights for the newly-published book ‘Towards Mutual Ground – Pluralism, Religious Education and Diversity in Irish Schools’ edited by Gareth Byrne and Patricia Kieran.
  39. Our Facebook page passed 5,000 likes. Our Facebook group had more than 1,600 members.
  40. In June 2013, Michael Nugent, Jane Donnelly and Professor David Nash met with the chairperson of the Irish Constitutional Convention to discuss the procedures for Atheist Ireland’s submissions on the question of removing the blasphemy law, and for a general submission on the separation of church and state.
  41. Michael Nugent appeared on Tonight with Vincent Browne on TV3, discussing how the influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland has waned in recent decades.
  42. We hosted our international conference on Empowering Women Through Secularism. The conference discussed Reproductive Rights, Secular Values, Separation of Church and State, Human Rights, and Politics and Campaigning, and agreed the Dublin Declaration on Empowering Women Through Secularism that will be launched at our 2013 AGM.
  43. Speakers at our international conference on Empowering Women Through Secularism included Ophelia Benson, Clare Daly, Anthea McTiernan, Ailbhe Smyth, Ross Kelly, Leonie Hilliard, Nina Sankari, Farhana Shakir, PZ Myers, Ann Brusseel, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Elida Radig, Michael Nugent, Jane Donnelly, Maryam Namazie, Dan Barker, Taslima Nasrin, Rachel Donnelly, Sinead Kennedy, Maryam Namazie, Ann Marie Waters, Carlos Diaz and Kate Smurthwaite.
  44. In July 2013, we highlighted the questions being asked of the Vatican by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child about the Vatican’s obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  45. We held our sixth monthly Secular Sunday brunches. They are now a regular feature of our activities, and extend our activities into family-friendly events.
  46. Atheist Ireland made a comprehensive formal submission to the Irish Constitutional Convention, seeking the removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution. We argue that blasphemy laws generally are harmful for three reasons: (a) They endanger freedom of speech and deny equality. (b) They are used to infringe on human rights around the world. (c) They have been condemned by reputable international bodies. We argue that the Irish blasphemy law in particular is harmful for three reasons: (a) It reinforces the religious ethos of the 1937 Constitution. (b) It brings our parliament and our laws into disrepute. (c) Islamic states use it at the UN to promote universal blasphemy laws.
  47. We celebrated the revelation from the Vatican that we can reduce the amount of time spent in Purgatory (“a sort of divine Ellis island” in Richard Dawkins’ memorable description) by following Pope Francis on twitter!
  48. Jane Donnelly reported on our ongoing efforts, including by Freedom of Information requests, to find out the basis on which decisions are taken in implementing the Civil Registration Act.
  49. We wrote to Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, to remind him that, as a member of the Council of State, he will become the first Irish person to be asked to swear a Constitutional oath in the presence of a god that he is publicly on record as not believing in. He responded that he had a constitutional duty to swear the oath.
  50. In August 2013, Michael Nugent was a panelist on Vincent Browne’s new TV series,  Challenging God, on TV3. This episode discussed: ‘Did God make humans or did humans make God?’ The other panelists were theologian James Mackey, and lecturer at the Mater Dei Institute Fáinche Ryan.
  51. As the UN Human Rights Committee was preparing to adopt a list of issues about Ireland at its session from 14 October to 1 November, Atheist Ireland sent a submission with recommendations regarding secular issues. These included: Freedom from Discrimination, Freedom of Conscience, Equality before the law, The rights of the child; Religious instruction classes; Religious integrated curriculum; Access to schools without religious discrimination. Recommendations by the IHRC on School Enrollment Policies; Protecting the Human Rights of minorities in the education system; Religious Oaths; Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012; and Article 19 Freedom of Expression with regard to our Blasphemy law.
  52. In September 2013, Michael Nugent was a panelist on Tonight with Dearbhal McDonald on TV3, discussing the secularisation of Ireland.
  53. Atheist Ireland member Brendan Maher celebrated the first anniversary of his monthly outreach table at the GPO in Dublin, promoting atheism, secularism and humanism to members of the public.
  54. Michael Nugent was a panelist on Vincent Browne’s TV series, Challenging God, on TV3. This episode discussed: ‘What was so special about Jesus?’ The other panelists were Jesuit priest Peter McVerry and the late theologian Sean Freyne.
  55. Atheist Ireland member Ashling O’Brien started a Meetup group for atheist and agnostic singles in Dublin.
  56. Michael Nugent discussed the issue of the Islamic veil with Yafa Shanneik of UCC on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1.
  57. We have worked with and supported pro-choice groups campaigning for legislation for the X case and repeal of the eighth amendment.
  58. We have met regularly with other NGOs in an informal group aiming to have Economic, Social and Cultural Rights addressed at the Constitutional Convention.

2. Financial Report for 2011-2012

Our Finance Officer, Sean O’Shea, will present the financial report at the AGM.

3. Committee Elections 2013

Under our constitution, we elect four committee officers at each AGM and the committee then co-opts other members to create and fill other positions as required.

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

Chairperson – Michael Nugent
Secretary – Helen O’Shea
Finance – Sean O’Shea
Regional – Kevin Sheehan

The current co-opted committee members are:

Jane Donnelly – Human Rights
Derek Walsh – Membership
Dara Hogan – Finance
Leonie Hilliard
Martijn Leenheer

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.

4. Priorities and Plans for 2013-2014

4(a) Political Priorities

  • Promoting Dublin Declaration on Secularism and Religion in Public Life
  • Promoting Five Steps to a Secular State
  • Promoting Dublin Declaration on Secularism Empowering Women
  • Campaign for Secular Education
  • Dialogue with Irish Government
  • Constitutional Convention
  • Dialogue with International Bodies
  • International Blasphemy Laws
  • Working with Atheist Alliance International

4(b) Learning About Atheism

  • This will be a major initiative for Atheist Ireland this year, and will be a first for the Irish education system. We will be working with Educate Together to finance, develop, design and pilot a series of lessons to teach primary school children about atheism.
  • Unlike the religious education classes in Catholic schools, these lessons will be based on the Toledo Guiding Principles, and will teach children about atheism in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. We will be launching a new fundraising campaign specifically for this initiative.

4(c) Organizational Priorities

  • We want to improve our structure and our administrative work. This is an area that we have neglected as we have been focusing on our political work. Sean O’Shea and Dara Hogan will coordinate this as our new finance team.
  • We want to establish local groups around the country, as well as establishing formal links with other secular groups. Kevin Sheehan will coordinate this as our new Regional Officer.
  • 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 will have a membership team to coordinate this.
  • We want to build on the success of the Secular Sunday newsletter, by consolidating and improving our other online presences. Helen O’Shea will coordinate this.

4(d) Ethical Issues

  • Continue to both promote our aims in a positive way, and to highlight incidents where we believe religions or religious representatives are behaving unethically.
  • Continue with our Good Without Gods project.
  • Continue to make Atheist Ireland as inclusive and friendly and welcoming as possible for existing and potential members.
  • Continue to work with other groups promoting an ethical secular society.
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