Five questions on secular issues for the Irish Presidential candidates

Atheist Ireland has written to the seven Presidential candidates asking them five questions about secular issues that are relevant to the position of President. We will publish the results when we receive them.

Mary Davis is the first candidate to respond. If you want to help us to establish the other six candidates’ positions on these issues, here are the questions that we have asked them and to the candidates’ postal addresses, email addresses and phone numbers.

Please contact them and remind them to respond to the questions as soon as possible, so that we can make an informed decision when we vote for our next President.

The five questions that we have asked the candidates

1. If elected President, what specifically will you do to ensure that you and the institutions of the State treat atheists and agnostics as equal citizens? What specifically will you do to make atheist and agnostic citizens feel welcome and included under your Presidency?

2. Do you personally agree that, as a President elected by the people, many of whom do not believe in a god, you should be required to publicly ask a god to “direct” you in your work as our President?

3. Are you comfortable with the fact that you are running in an election that excludes many conscientious Irish citizens simply because they do not believe in a god? If elected President, what specifically will you do to try to change this situation?

4. Are you comfortable with the fact that as President your Council of State must exclude many conscientious Irish citizens simply because they do not believe in a god? If elected President, what specifically will you do to try to change this situation?

5. If elected President, will you seek to address the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Nation under Article 13.2 of the Constitution about the following matter of national and public importance: that the Irish State should treat atheist, agnostic and religious citizens and organisations as equal under the law.

How you can remind the candidates to reply

The questions were sent two weeks ago, and were followed up with reminders. The campaigns have each told us that they will reply, but only one has done so to date. In fairness, from the tone of the follow-up contacts, it seems to be because they are busy and not because they are unwilling to reply.

That is why we are now asking other people to remind them, in order to focus their attention on it. Ideally we want to publish the responses together but if there is much more of a delay we will publish those which we have received.

Please ask them to reply either to the postal address on the letter that they received from Atheist Ireland, or by email to chair (at) atheist.ie

You can contact them at:

Sean Gallagher
14 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
together@seangallagher.com
085-8831155

Michael D Higgins
17 Ely Place, Dublin 2
info@michaeldhiggins.ie
01-6784710

Martin McGuinness
101-102 Capel Street, Dublin 1
admin@thepeoplespresident.ie
01-8740194

Gay Mitchell
Fine Gael, 51 Upper Mount Street, Dublin 2
gay.mitchell@europarl.europa.eu
finegael@finegael.com
01-6198444

Senator David Norris
Seanad Éireann, Kildare Street, Dublin 2
david.norris@oireachtas.ie
01-6183104

Dana Rosemary Scallon
c/o Lindsey Holmes Publicity,
The Rere, 6 Cullenwood Park, Dublin 6
lindsey@lhpublicity.ie
01-4970313

Some background information on the questions

In the 2006 census, almost a quarter of a million people either ticked the ‘No Religion’ box or else did not answer the Religion question. In the 2011 census we believe that figure will be considerably higher.

Yet the Irish State discriminates against atheists and agnostics in many ways. This discrimination includes imposing religious declarations on the President, Judges and members of the Council of State; failing to provide a secular education system that respects the right to freedom of conscience of atheist and agnostic citizens; explicitly allowing religious organisations but not nonreligious philosophical organisations to opt out of equality, employment and taxation laws; and passing a blasphemy law that treats religious beliefs with more respect than nonreligious philosophical beliefs.

Two of these matters relate directly to the role of President.

Under Article 12.8 of the Constitution, the President must, in order to take office, take and subscribe publicly a declaration that begins with the words “In the presence of Almighty God…” and that ends with the words “May God direct and sustain me.” This religious oath effectively prevents Irish citizens who are conscientious atheists or agnostics from becoming President. It is the equivalent of requiring a religious citizen to swear an oath that begins with the words “In the absence of Almighty God…” This requirement runs contrary to case law in the European Court of Human Rights. The State should not require a citizen, even indirectly, to reveal information about their religious beliefs in this way.

Under Article 31 of the Constitution, the President is aided by a Council of State, consisting of certain serving and former politicians and judges, and up to seven other persons appointed at the absolute discretion of the President. The members of the Council of State must, at their first meeting, take and subscribe publicly a declaration that begins with the words “In the presence of Almighty God…” This religious oath effectively prevents Irish citizens who are conscientious atheists or agnostics from serving as members of the Council of State, and it prevents the President from appointing such persons as they would be unable to accept the appointment.

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