The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is discriminating against atheists

Atheist Ireland has today emailed the following letter to the Irish Council for Civil liberties, and to the members of the Advisory Group and Research Team of the ICCL’s Anti-Discrimination Law Review Project.

On 23 October Atheist Ireland discovered that the ICCL is running an Anti-Discrimination Law Review Project, an excellent and important initiative, that is seriously flawed by unconscious bias on the issue of discrimination on the ground of religion. The project has an Advisory Group whose expertise is described as “vital in ensuring that the proposed recommendations are appropriate and workable from the perspective of disadvantaged communities and their advocates.”

In all areas other than discrimination on the ground of religion, the composition of the Group reflects this goal. Then, when it comes to the ground of religion, not only does the Group fail to include the perspective of atheists who are discriminated against, but it actually includes a representative of the Church that most discriminates against us.

There is no example, under any of the other grounds, where the main private discriminating body in the country is represented on the Advisory Group. Also, none of the other bodies represented on the Group has had the UN Human Rights Committee raise concerns about them.

This is an example of the unconscious bias against atheists that is ingrained in Irish society, to the extent that it even manifests itself in an anti-discrimination project. Atheist rights advocacy in Ireland is still at the stage of consciousness raising that feminism was some decades ago.

The ICCL asked us to write formally to raise our concerns, and to seek representation on the Advisory Group. On 25 October we wrote with the following five requests:

  1. Please treat discrimination on the ground of religion in the same rights-advocacy focused way as you are treating discrimination on other grounds.
  2. Please invite Atheist Ireland to provide a member of the Advisory Group, to bring expertise from the perspective of those who are discriminated against.
  3. Please reconsider the inclusion on the Advisory Group of a representative of the Catholic Bishops Conference, a body that the UN Human Rights Committee has raised concerns about.
  4. Please address the unconscious bias that has caused this Project to treat discrimination on the grounds of religion differently to other forms of discrimination.
  5. Please let us all learn from this experience, so that we can move forward together as advocacy groups protecting and promoting human and civil rights.

Unfortunately, not only has the ICCL not rectified these problems, but it has failed to engage meaningfully with our concerns. It replied seven weeks ago saying that it would shortly reply in detail to our letter. It has yet to do this, other than to tell us that it does not envisage us being invited to join the Advisory Group. And it has now ignored for four weeks a request to meet to discuss the issue and try to resolve it constructively.

We have repeatedly stressed to the ICCL that we want to have a positive and mutually supportive working relationship. We appreciate and respect its work. And we do not want to influence how the ICCL conducts its work, on issues that do not overlap with our agenda. However, when the ICCL chooses to act in a quasi-coordinatory role, on a project that is central to our agenda, then its conduct becomes a legitimate issue for us to lobby on.

In essence, we are asking the ICCL to do what the Hear Our Voices initiative asked the Government to do: to have an Advisory Group that is inclusive of relevant civil society groups, that provides meaningful input on issues of direct concern to our members, and that fosters a sense of shared ownership of the project.

We are seeking two specific outcomes from this letter:

  • To meet with the ICCL to discuss our concerns, to help the ICCL to understand how it is discriminating against atheists, and to work together to resolve the issues constructively.
  • To discuss our concerns directly with others who may have influence with the ICCL, including members of this project’s Advisory Board and Research Team.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Appendix 1: Members of the project’s Advisory Group

  • Michael Barron, Executive Director of Belong To
  • Deirdre Carroll, CEO of Inclusion Ireland
  • Patricia Conboy, Director of Older and Bolder
  • Siobhan Cummiskey, Barrister at Law
  • Hilkka Becker, Senior Solicitor with Immigrant Council of Ireland
  • Fiona Crowley, Research Manager of Amnesty Ireland
  • Susan Fay, Managing Solicitor with Irish Traveller Movement
  • David Joyce, Equality Officer of ICTU
  • Cliona Kimber, Barrister at Law
  • Moya de Paor, Managing Solicitor with NCLC
  • Cat McIlroy, Founder of Trans* Education and Advocacy
  • Eoin O’Mahony, Irish Catholic Bishops Conference
  • Conor Power, Barrister at Law (Chairperson)
  • Dil Wickremasinghe, Broadcaster and Social Entrepreneur

Appendix 2: Timescale of our attempts to resolve this problem

  • On 23 October, seven weeks ago, we first discovered about this discrimination at the project’s conference and book launch at the Law Society. The ICCL asked us to write to them about our concerns, and to ask them to invite us to nominate a member to the Advisory Group.
  • On 25 October, two days later, we emailed the ICCL, the coordinator of the UCD Research Team, and the Chairperson and the Catholic Bishops representative on the Advisory Group. The contents of that letter are summarized above.
  • Later that day, we received a constructive email from the UCD Research Team saying they would be in touch the following week, an acknowledgment from the Catholic Bishops Conference representative on the Advisory Group, and then an email from the ICCL saying that they had told the members of the Advisory Group to whom we had written that the ICCL would be replying to us shortly.
  • On 8 November, two weeks after our first email, we emailed the ICCL again, seeking a reply before our strategy workshop that weekend. We said that we really needed to know that we are all working together, and actively supporting each other, and we suggested that we meet for coffee before they reply.
  • Later that day, the ICCL replied saying that they did not envisage, at this stage, inviting us to join the advisory group, and that they would send a more detailed response setting out the rationale for that decision in due course.
  • On 12 November, we emailed the ICCL again, expressing our disappointment and confusion that they were not standing alongside us on this issue, asking what ‘at this stage’ meant, and suggesting that we meet that week to discuss it further and try to ensure a constructive outcome.
  • Later that day, the ICCL replied, saying that they had a rather full agenda that week but that, as promised, they would be writing to us in due course.
  • On 13 November, we emailed the ICCL again, asking when they would be free to meet us. We said we didn’t want to deal with this exclusively through exchanges of letters, that the reason we wrote was because we were asked to write, and that, as well as writing, we would also like to meet to discuss it.
  • It is now 10 December, seven weeks since we first raised this issue, and four weeks since we sent our last email asking when we could meet to discuss the issue. We have had no response in the past four weeks from the ICCL to our request for a meeting.

Appendix 3: Note on Catholic Bishops Conference representative

In our letters to the ICCL, we have stressed that this is not a criticism of Eoin O’Mahony, who we know to be a man of integrity. We know that the ICCL selected him with the best of intentions, and that it did not deliberately seek to marginalize or disadvantage atheists further. But regardless of the best intentions of the ICCL, the outcome is that this is what has happened.

There is certainly value in engaging in dialogue with the Catholic Church to seek to move them towards a position of respecting the human and civil rights of atheists and other nonreligious people. But engaging them in dialogue is very different (and sends a very different message) from having them represented on the Advisory Group of an otherwise credible Anti-Discrimination Project.

Join the Conversation

19 Comments

  1. Michael, This post is seriously inaccurate in a number of significant respects and does nothing to further your cause. You have been told quite clearly that the ICCL rejects your criticisms and does not intend to invite Atheist Ireland to join this Advisory Group at this stage. You will receive a fuller response when our very busy schedule permits. In the meantime, frankly I expect better of Atheist Ireland. Happy holidays.

  2. “In the meantime, frankly I expect better of Atheist Ireland. ”

    This is not a good start to re-establishing dialogue. Apparently what is expected of Atheist Ireland is to sit back and be quiet; to allow the obvious discrimination against atheists and the the broader secular movement.

    It seems quite bizarre to me that the Council for Civil Liberties cannot grasp why Atheist Ireland would want ,or should have, inclusion in this part of the Review. But this is what “privilege” is: a system of inequalities so ingrained as to be invisible to the privileged. Many men cannot see male privilege; many cis-gendered do not see discrimination against trans people; the even faintly-religious do not see the discrimination against the non-religious.

    Would it be acceptable to the pro-choice groups if the Catholic Church were involved in the review of abortion rights but not a proc-choice advocate? Would it be acceptable to the LGBTQ community for the Catholic Church to be involved in the review of rights of gay parents, gay teachers & pupils in their schools but to have no LGBTQ advocates involved?

    Before I ever even heard of Atheist Ireland I called the ICCL about the then new blasphemy law. I was met with a bemused if not amused repsonse and was told they wouldn’t be doing anything on it. The ICCL seems to have come no further in tackling the ideas of religious control of state institutions and state involvement in religious institutions.

    Mark can expect what he wants from atheist activists but we won’t be quiet about discrimination any more than feminists or gay people should be ‘expected’ to. His organisation has had just shy of two months to respond to Atheist Ireland’s more-than-reasonable letters and requests for meetings. His emotive response to Michaels blog and the absense of content in that response is quite instructive about the ICCL’s attitude to religiously motivated discrimination.

    I’d be interested to hear what the other review board member’s attitudes to this are and I think Atheist Ireland should contact each and explain it to them in terms of their own hypothetical exclusion.

    Happy Christmas.

  3. So to paraphrase Mark: don’t like criticism, so will ignore any until/if it suits. Couldn’t be bothered to say what is inaccurate, or give reasons why secular ideals should not be represented. Nice attitude.

  4. “and does nothing to further your cause”

    Mr. Kelly is that comment not revealing in a number of ways which invite the reader to draw a series of conclusions about the ICCL, (it’s to be assumed that you are commenting in your capacity as director of that organisation) and its fitness for purpose, which flatter neither yourself nor the organisation you represent?

  5. @ Mark Kelly. It doesn’t further your cause if you exclude and blame a possible partner without giving any reason for it. You “reject (…) criticism” . On what base? Just out of principle? Frankly, I expect better of The Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

  6. Just goes to show you, the more things change the more they stay the same. ICCL proving itself to be toothless and irrelevant in modern Ireland. I would be extremely embarrassed if I were one of those people named on the projects advisory group.

  7. Clearly Mark, you should have known better than to make claims in a public forum without substantiation. Whether it’s a blog or otherwise is irrelevant.

  8. “Clearly I should know better to post on a blog …”

    Mr. Kelly there’s no issue with you posting on blogs, the issue is with what you post and the knock on effect that has on how you and the ICCL will be perceived as a consequence of your words. Apart from which the implication of your second message is that the readers of this blog aren’t intelligent enough to understand you. If only it were thus because it seems to me the issue is trickier than that i.e. we understand only too well what you’re attempting to say. If we haven’t then you might deign to bring some clarity to the matter instead of complaining about your audience.

    If you’d like to be perceived, and if you’d like the ICCL to be perceived along with you, as arrogant, aloof and borderline menacing -“does nothing to further your cause”- then you’re doing a knock out job. On the other hand if you’d like to be seen as reasoning, reasonable and, ahem, inclusive then the words you’ve chosen to use, thus far, ill serve both you and, more troublingly, the ICCL.

    I’m not actually a member of Atheist Ireland and don’t have any intention of joining Atheist Ireland but their case for, that word again, inclusion seems perfectly reasonable to me and, I’d wager, to any reasonably minded third party too. You seem to be taking ownership of the decision to exclude them, and those they represent, but your attitude appears to communicate some altogether unwholesome sentiments. In particular your first message gives a very definite sense that you’re advising Mr. Nugent that if he wants Atheist Ireland to make any progress with the ICCL then he’d better learn to play nice with you. But Mr. Kelly the demographic he represents, while perhaps still a minority, should be one that you’d wish to work with, one whom you shouldn’t be “coming the heavy” with, at least that is what I thought until I saw your comments here today.

    I sincerely hope that the ICCL have been ill served by what you have chosen to write here today because the alternative is that a prominent Irish NGO, which represents itself as working towards the creation of a civil society to which everyone can belong, is in fact more interested in picking favourites and perpetuating the exact forms of discrimination it claims to fight against.

  9. As Michael has already been informed, he will receive a full and formal response from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, highlighting the inaccuracies in this post and in his previous correspondence, in due course.

  10. what does “in due course” mean?

    is that the same as when a parent says “soon” to a child, when they mean “shut up and stop bothering me”?

    you have mentioned that there are inaccuracies, yet have not specified any at all.

    surely if there were any you could point to, then you would?

    what are you afraid of?

  11. Fair enough Mark Kelly. I’m looking forward to your comments. Only hope you will not rely on confirmation bias when arguing (looking to find proof for already cherished believes in stead of looking for ways to overcome them). It would also be hugely improve your reputation if you would be helpful in giving Atheist Ireland a chance to have a say in the subject in stead of looking for a reason to exclude them.

  12. Seriously Mark, you have the time to write three responses saying that the post is inaccurate, but you can’t find a moment to explain what any of those inaccuracies are? Did they not send you the e-mails on the dates stated? Does Michael misrepresent here the content of the exchange? Instead of being informative, your responses appear condescending and dismissive. Frankly I expect better of the ICCL.

  13. Substitute Atheist Ireland for ‘the Black-Irish Association of Ireland’, ‘Travellers United Against Racism’, ‘the Anti-Misogyny Campaign’ etc. etc. and re-read the unacceptable post by Mark Kelly. My faith in the ICCL has evaporated. From now on I will only believe that the ICCL can and does protect the vulnerable, oppressed and discriminated against based on evidence in the form of their deeds.

  14. Dear Mark Kelly, judging you solely on your comments in this blog I want to say well done for helping protect the ICCL from getting infiltrated by a small bunch of people crazy enough to think that the world isn’t controlled by a supernatural being (imagine) and who have the arrogance to think they should have an equal voice in society as those who do. Seriously.

  15. What a joke this person who is representing the ICCL is. These theists and idiot pagans are going to kill us all or in the very least want us all to die, it is part of their doctrine. Mark Kelly there is no need for you to “respond” in the future… you already have and your response states very clearly that the ICCL is an exclusionary organization. That type of mentality has been seen before and no good has come from it. I hope you can re-read you reply and see the territorial animal instinct mentality in your own posts. Oh yeah I celebrate everyday, more so when an atheist is born.

  16. Fascinating. Amazing when you realize that Mark Kelly is a highly qualified lawyer who appears to specialize in the area of human rights. My respect for the whole legal profession has plummeted even further. The ICCL also has another highly qualified ‘Communications Manager’. Apparently both are too busy to communicate with one of the constituencies they were set up to represent.

  17. when the law society of Ireland formed a committe to target me when I objected to an employee downloading a email of a pedophile nature sent APRIL O8 by an individual from the medical council of Ireland to my wife of 39yrs when a fitness to practice against Dr Ryan mednark
    26th June 08 I went to terenure garda station to lodges a complaint at the invitation OF THE GARDA on leaving I was detained unlawfully for 12 hrs as result 3herat by pass DEC08
    my unhindered access to the Irish courts denied to me

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *