Atheist Ireland briefs UN about religious discrimination in Ireland

imageAtheist Ireland has just made the following statement to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. We will next be attending a more detailed briefing session with UN Committee members, then the Committee will be questioning Ireland about its human rights record. The Twitter hashtag for the sessions is #UNIRL

ORAL STATEMENT by Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland

Education System

Ireland repeatedly ignores UN recommendations to respect the rights of atheists and non-Christians, in the treaties on Civil and Political Rights, Rights of the Child, Racial Discrimination and ESC Rights.

This Covenant obliges Ireland to guarantee the rights within it without discrimination. Ireland repeatedly fails to do this, particularly in the education system.

Ireland still has no non-denominational schools, at primary or secondary level. Primary schools are still publicly funded private bodies, almost all Christian, with a near-monopoly on a vital public service, and no effective remedy to vindicate Covenant rights.

These State-funded private schools can still demand Christian baptism certs for admission. The new Admission to Schools Bill retains the right to discriminate against atheist, Muslim and other minority faith families.

If you do get your child into a school, you still face two problems. If you want to opt your child out of formal religious instruction classes, there are no non-discriminatory exemptions or alternatives.

And the Education Act and Rule 68 of National Schools integrate a religious ethos throughout the entire curriculum, thus depriving your child of a neutral studying environment, even outside of the formal religious instruction classes.

If you are a teacher, your school can discriminate against you based on your atheism. The new Bill to protect LGBT teachers retains the right to discriminate against atheist teachers.

Systemic Discrimination

The education system is not an isolated case. Ireland systemically breaches the Covenant rights of atheists and non-Christians, in the Education Act, Admissions to Schools Bill, Equal Status Act, Employment Equality Act, Civil Registration Act, religious oaths for political and legal jobs, our blasphemy law, our abortion law, and the lack of an effective remedy.

Ireland has no plans to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to include all the grounds referred to in article 2, paragraph 2, of this Covenant.

Ireland has told this Committee that our equality laws protect the rights in the Covenant. But our Minister for Education, and our Minister of State for Equality, have both recently said that a Constitutional Referendum would be needed to remove discrimination against atheists in our education system.

So not only are Ireland’s anti discrimination laws incompatible with the Covenant, our Constitution itself is also incompatible with the Covenant, and there is no effective remedy through the courts to vindicate the rights guaranteed by the Covenant.

Even though Ireland accepted, here in Geneva, last year, that majority votes cannot be used to derogate from Covenant rights, including on abortion law, Ireland continues to rely on majority votes to defend breaches of these rights.

These problems are outlined in detail in Atheist Ireland’s written submissions to this Committee.

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23 Comments

  1. I hope this has an effect; Ireland really should be made to stop this discrimination. Well done, AI!

  2. I’m praying to Odin that something comes of this and the government are forced to finally act and stop the discrimination.

    Well done to all at AI.

  3. “But our Minister for Education, and our Minister of State for Equality, have both recently said that a Constitutional Referendum would be needed to remove discrimination against atheists in our education system”

    If that is the case, then they have been handed these rôle-titles under false pretenses if, even as ministers, they *cannot execute their remit* at even the most basic level. Their fancy-shmancy crowd-pleasing titles are therefore rendered quite fraudulent.

    If they neither resign nor strenuously object to their imposed impotence, they should resign. Immediately.

  4. @ Michael Kingsford Gray

    Their fancy-shmancy crowd-pleasing titles are therefore rendered quite fraudulent.

    Yes! I find all the information in this presentation to be shocking, but most appalling of all is the statement “But our Minister for Education, and our Minister of State for Equality, have both recently said that a Constitutional Referendum would be needed to remove discrimination against atheists in our education system”.

    So discrimination is enshrined in the constitution and atheists are effectively non-people unless that is changed.

    Keep on holding their feet to the fire, Michael and AI.

  5. @Carrie:

    “non-people” is a bit OTT.

    I lived in Ireland as an atheist until I left the country in my early forties.

    Other than once or twice as a schoolboy, my atheism has been the cause of zero issues. I repeat: zero.

  6. HAHAHA. Nialler, the one true soul of Ireland to not have ever had any issues ever with being an Atheist in one of the world’s most dogmatic religious countries.

    I guess Nialler, you are the only individual when asked at the border whether or not you were a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist, theyt accepted your atheist-atheist reply.

    Does anyone else sense the fly in Nialler’s ointment?

  7. @ Nialler

    Other than once or twice as a schoolboy, my atheism has been the cause of zero issues.

    I am glad that you were lucky enough that your atheism caused you no problems in Ireland in your adult life. I note that you did have issues with it once or twice as a schoolboy.

    Since the Minister for Education and the Minister of State for Equality “have both recently said that a Constitutional Referendum would be needed to remove discrimination against atheists in our education system”, my point that atheists are effectively non-people unless that is changed stands. I should perhaps have added “in the eyes of constitutional law”. It is good to hear that this does not always affect the adult lives of atheists.

  8. @Carrie:

    I should have been much clearer. The issues in school didn’t relate directly to my atheism.

    They were violent episodes which resulted from a deficiency of Catholicism on my part. The difference is subtle, but it is still there.

    I’m not defending those bastards in any way. When one of my teachers gassed himself in his car it was the only time as an adult human being that I briefly celebrated the death of another. That’s not me at all.

    It would be incorrect, though, to say that the window pole was applied with such vigour across my arse (and so many times) merely because I was atheist. The boner which the teacher was concealing gives the lie to that impression.

    I would repeat that through Uni, and through my working career and my life in Ireland I have never suffered one whit for being atheist.

  9. @John Greg:

    I traveled very frequently over the border without ever once being asked the question you propose.

    Never once was I asked that question. I’ve stared into the scratched muzzles of guns through an opened car window and have never been subject that that type of interrogation.

  10. @John Greg:

    Rereading it I really can’t believe the idiocy of your question.

    I crossed the border on almost a weekly basis during The Troubles and was never once asked my religion or about my lack of it. Where you around during these times at all?

  11. Nialler, it’s a friggin’ joke, and a rather famous one too. I am gobsmacked that you are unaware of that.

  12. @Nialler

    I should have been much clearer. The issues in school didn’t relate directly to my atheism.

    I would repeat that through Uni, and through my working career and my life in Ireland I have never suffered one whit for being atheist.

    Thank you for the clarification. People who say that our school-days are the happiest days of our lives really have a totally different experience from many of us.

    I think that I too have not been clear. What I was trying to say was that the law in Ireland apparently regards atheists in schools as non-persons, since they are not allowed-for in the Constitution. This means that in theory (and possibly in practice) if any dispute arises between an atheist and a catholic, the catholic will automatically win since the atheist does not exist as a person unless the Constitution is changed.

    I am glad that you personally faced no discrimination because of your atheism; I am sad that you came up against the nastiness of such horrible teachers. I do not know whether Irish law has changed as regards hitting children. Over here, the days when perverted teachers enjoyed beating or caning children legally is looked back on with horror.

  13. @Carrie:

    Exactly. I’ve never understood that trite “best days of your life” rubbish. Not when it is applied to one’s schooldays.

    My own schooldays consisted of a concerted and ruthless effort to extinguish any signs of free-thinking and to eliminate the need for such by implanting – in something akin to a microwave ready meal – rheir set of values and eternal truths.

    The Christian Brothers held strongly to the idea of education by rote, and one could achieve great results under their system without having recourse to a single original thought.

    There was also a strong undercurrent of republicanism involved. Thus, I learned:

    Irish – essential for every True Patriot and handy when planning a spectacular over the telephone.
    English – Best to know what the b0startds are saying.
    Maths – Parabolic equations are at the heart of any mortar attack.
    History – best know why we’re fighting them.
    Geography – Given this ordnance survey map, identify three well-hidden locations for a mortar within range of the army base marked with an “x”.
    Chemistry – You’ll need to know what happens when sugar and fertiliser are combined.
    Religion – Your reward won’t come in this life.
    French – you may need at some stage to find a safe house abroad.

    Beatings were routine and very physical. Friday afternoon was to be feared as the teachers had been paid that morning (in cash) and tended to repair to the boozer at lunchtime.

    The parent-teacher interface occasionally consisted of a teacher’s nose and a parent’s fist. They were vicious twisted bastards almost without exception. There were two of my experience who actually encouraged independent thought. They both “jumped over the wall” pretty much the moment they gained doctorates.

    Corporal punishment is now banned. There was a time, though, when one could pop into a shop in Dublin to buy a thick leather strap (actually two pieces of leather stitched together with stitching sufficiently heavy as to leave welts on the hand). Teachers were rumoured to insert metal or coins in them. This turned out to be a baseless rumour based on the three that I stole and picked apart. This latter endeavour led to the realisation that the replacement leathers, being new, were softer then those which had been plied for many years. There ensued a plague of leather thefts, which had at least the result of replacing the entire stock to newer leathers.

    Ironically enough, I did well in the system. My last six months under their tender care consisted of a passive form of expulsion. I could attend classes but none of my coursework would be examined. I took from them the need for a degree of discipline in regard to approaching a subject, and I also took on board the rigour with they approached things. OK, their rigour was applied often in the direction of demonstrating a priori assumptions, but the rigour itself was of intrinsic value.

    A measure of the toxicity of the relationship between me and my teachers is illustrated by the manner in which one of my teachers reacted to my Leaving Cert results (A’s in all but one subject – that one was a certain A, but had I appealed it all of my other papers would also be rechecked, and I certainly hadn’t even answered enough chemistry questions to merit so much as a B so I let it go).

    He was my French teacher. He snarled at me that if there were any justice in the world the only utility I would ever derive from the grade would be the ability to converse with my cell-mates in a Martinique hell-hole prison. The same guy gassed himself in his car twenty years later when he became aware that Mr Plod wished to speak to him under caution regarding the delicate matter of sexually abusing pupils.

    I was never bound for a hell-hole; I was leaving one behind.

    This gets to the issue of sexual abuse. It was rife in my school. The worst predators, though, were lay teachers. The lay teachers were also the most dogmatic and enthusiastic evangelists.

    I myself avoided the bombs of sexual abuse. I was either an ugly child or, more probably, considered sufficiently lippy and independent as to make me too risky a target. However, I was aware that it was happening and did all I could to keep siblings and friends away from the predators. Involvement in school sports was something to avoid. Sports involved showers and undressing and, occasionally, an overnight somewhere. School trips were also to be avoided. My parents were curious when they heard about a trip to Paris which I hadn’t mentioned to them in the form of a request to be allowed to go. They were shocked when I replied that taking a trip to the City of Love with at least two paedophiles in charge was not something I was comfortable about. My father made enquiries at the local cop shop but was rebuffed. The Brothers got to hear about it and that was when I underwent a quasi-expulsion.

    Mt father regretted not pursuing the matter. Had they expelled me the matter might have gone legal, which could have been interesting.

    Sorry for the lengthy screed.

    But “the best days of my life”? One of the very best days, was the day I picked up my results, turned my back on the place as I walked out, spat on the ground, patted the results in my pocket, looked up at a clear blue sky and closed that chapter in my life, taking with me the best I could derive from it.

  14. But “the best days of my life”? One of the very best days, was the day I picked up my results, turned my back on the place as I walked out, spat on the ground, patted the results in my pocket, looked up at a clear blue sky and closed that chapter in my life, taking with me the best I could derive from it.

    *applause* Congratulations on surviving all that. It is wonderful to see someone who really suffered like that and who refuses to be a victim.

    Seriously, for what little it’s worth, respect.

  15. @Carrie:

    Thanks. My tendency is to take the good out of the bad. Sometimes it’s the only thing to do.

    In effect I spent 11 years in a CBS. I’ve 40 years of other experience which forms the basis for my attitudes and which smothers those 11 years.

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