HAI e-Newsletter April 2015


In this issue:
HAI Poster Campaign
First Sunday Meeting 5 April: A Discussion on Education
Report of Sunday Meeting 1st March: Talk by Willie Collins
The Ice Age and its Discoery: Darwin, Controversies. 200 years of research and what we now know
HAI Stand at the GPO
Chaplaincy News
Volunteers for History Team
Fist Meeting of North-West Humanists
Contributions from Members
New Groups and Local Humanist Groups
Living Wills



HAI Poster Campaign

You will have seen the HAI’s Poster Campaign that was launched on 23rd March.Posters have been placed in prominent locations, including bus shelters, train stations and shopping centres, to highlight the injustice of schools’ admission policies, which discriminate against children who are not baptised.  The campaign aims to bring attention to this issue and to poll the population for their views.

The campaign has received extensive coverage on newspapers, radio and TV, and Brian Whiteside has been much in demand as the HAI’s spokesperson.  The campaign has also prompted letters to the newspapers and encouraged new members to join the HAI.  These links give a flavour of the interest and support the issue has provoked:

Brian Whiteside writes in the Irish Times about how we need secular primary schools
The Sunday Times reports that Humanists fight baptism rule
TV3 included an interview with Nicola Murphy and Brian Whiteside on their Ireland AM programme.
Letters in support of the campaign published in the Irish Times



First Sunday Meeting 5 April: A Discussion on Education

The first Sunday meeting will be a discussion on education.  The meeting will take place in our new venue, The Ashling Hotel, Parkgate Street at 4.00 p.m.There will be three short presentations on topics to do with education, a matter of key concern for the Association:

  • The preparation of the Association’s campaign on the requirement for baptismal certificates for enrolment in some schools.
  •  Experiences of school visits, especially the reactions of students.
  • The recommendations of Professor John Coolahan for Primary Sector Education: ”Progress to date and future directions”

There will be plenty of opportunity for members and visitors to discuss any issues related to these topics.


Alan Tuffery
Email: [email protected]
Mobile: 086 162 6988




Report of Sunday Meeting 1st March: Talk by Willie Collins
Willie Collins has worked for 10 years for the HSE Drug and Alcohol unit in Cork and Kerry.  He is the former Director of Aiseiri Treatment Centres and is currently a Specialist in Addiction at Wharton House Private Clinic in Waterford. He is a member of the board of HAI.  The following is a summary of Willie’s talk.The scale of the problem addiction in Ireland is immense1. From 2004 to 2012,   between poisoning and the direct consequences of taking drugs,  5,289 people died. That is more than died during the Troubles. 21.1% of drinkers engage in binge drinking at least once per week, where binge drinking is defined as taking six or more standard drinks on one occasion.
We associate alcohol with times when our mood is better than usual. Alcohol is a depressant; it can depress our inhibitions and can depress our negative emotions. A clue that we have an addiction is that we ignore the consequences of our drinking. We can build a delusion that we’re nicer, more likeable and more capable when we take alcohol.
People will refer to themselves as an ‘unemployed manager’, rather than as an ex-manager who lost their job due to their drinking. This denial leads to the alcoholic not recognizing the need for any change in their behaviour. Alcoholics tend to isolate themselves, but by care and kindness a therapist may break through the denial and delusions and so separate the addiction from the person.  The underlying problem is usually how the person feels about themselves.
Alcoholism is a learned response. The alcoholic has consequences of drinking in many areas of their lives, namely their family and their job as well as their health, whereas a heavy drinker does not have the same range of problems.
As a society we tend to give permission to drunks to express their negative emotions publicly but we expect sober people to repress these feelings. It is not a good idea to introduce Irish children to alcohol. We do not have a culture of drinking as part of a meal, we have a culture of drinking. The mechanism of addiction to drugs, gambling and food all seem to be linked together by the endorphins which these all produce. However the treatment of eating disorders is very different from the addictions which we may live without.
The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) method depends on the idea that recovery is possible and that we should make amends for the harm we have inflicted on others through our addiction. Many people have difficulty in embracing AA as they think it is too religious with talk of a Higher Power. The concept of higher power can of course relate to a group of people being a “power greater” than any individual member of that group or indeed anything external added to the person that raises their spirit (how they feel about themselves) can be seen as a higher power. It would be a pity if a person was deprived of a wonderful recovery from addiction because of a misunderstanding.
Methadone treatment has reduced the level of criminality associated with heroin addiction but it does not treat the underlying addiction. It merely replaces an illegal drug with a legal one. In treatment and recovery it is important to allow people to have positive experiences and so bringing people with similar problems together is good for them to identify with others. Organizations that provide services for addiction must be prepared to deal with a variety of people. The connection with others is a way to avoid using drugs or alcohol to numb pain.
Religious belief has made people make bad decisions as it introduced guilt, shame and negative attitudes towards being human. On the other hand it has helped some people in their recovery from addiction. People are searching for something. In some ways perhaps people become addicted to religion or to AA meetings. These may not be as damaging as addiction to heroin or alcohol. Eventually though, a recovering person should start replacing the daily meetings with other enjoyable and good experiences.
1 http://www.hse.ie/eng/health/az/A/Alcohol-misuse/Treating-alcohol-dependency.html
2 http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/how-much-do-we-drink/
Report by Peter Deeney



The Ice Age and Its Discovery: Darwin, Controversies, 200 years of research and what we now know…
This year, the Darwin Day lecture was held on 12th February, and given by Professor Pete Coxon of the Department of Geography, Trinity College, Dublin.

Prof. Coxon reviewed the state of knowledge about ice ages in Darwin’s time (mid-19th century) and how it has progressed since then. The presentation gave a clear indication of how science progresses, by the accumulation of knowledge from a variety of sources and the resistance to that progress by individuals’ clinging on to paradigms which are no longer sustainable.

It may not be generally known that Darwin saw himself as primarily a geologist rather than as a naturalist, when he joined HMS Beagle. He was influenced by Charles Lyell who advocated Uniformitarianism, that is, the hypothesis that the geologic processes that were around at the beginning of time were still operating in the same way. In other words, there was a series of relatively slow changes which changed the face of the Earth: an idea which reappears in Darwin’s idea of Natural Selection to explain the changes in animals and plants. Uniformitarianism was opposed by Catastrophism, the idea that geologic changes were abrupt which had been adopted in England to support the ideas of the biblical Noah’s Flood.

A key figure was William Buckland, a minister of religion and catastrophist who became Reader in Geology at Oxford and was an influential tutor to Lyell. Later Buckland became persuaded by the idea of slow, gradual change but struggled to reconcile it with the biblical account of creation.

At the end of the 18th century, various writers in Europe and Britain had sought to explain ‘erratic boulders’, large isolated pieces of rock, by means of the movement of glaciers over successive ice ages. This idea gained more ready acceptance in the Alps and other mountainous parts of Europe, where the evidence of glaciation, and especially glacial retreat, was much more obvious and gradually became more accepted.

By the 1830s the evidence gathered in extensive fieldwork was becoming convincing to many geologists. However, when Agassiz and Schimper presented their ideas about a series of glaciations, the audience was very critical because the prevailing idea was that the Earth had been steadily cooling since its formation. Agassiz responding in true scientific fashion by going on to collect much more evidence from fieldwork. (He was less ‘scientific’ in failing to give some of his collaborators due precedence and acknowledgement!)

There was a wrong turning in the importance given to the role of icebergs in carrying material about and dropping it on the land during times of submergence. The idea persisted far beyond its ‘sell-by’ date and it was not until 1860 that Darwin recognised his error in accepting it.

As so often is the case in the history of science ‘sociological’ influences were at work. In particular, it was often the case that it was only the death of influential individuals that allowed a ‘paradigm shift’ to occur  and the newer ideas to be accepted.

The idea that there had been several ice ages depends on more modern work although Croll (1896) and later Milankovitch used data on the effects of variations of the Earth’s orbit. In this they were following the hypothesis of Esmark (c. 1815) who had argued that successive ice ages were caused by changes in the Earth’s orbit and his ideas were accepted. Later workers were able to correlate his observations with the geological and fossil records to effectively demonstrate the successive periods of cooling. His work was not widely known at the time and it took until the 1970s and the addition of other lines of evidence before his contribution was recognised

Prof. Coxon ended his talk by looking at the consistent decline in the mass of glaciers in recent years, even where a glacier is advancing. This is a potent argument for the present time being on the ‘extremely warm’ side of average.

There was a wide-ranging discussion on the prospects of the next ice age (2,500 years, perhaps); on aspects of the characters, beliefs and skills of some of the early naturalists, geologists and cartographers; and the fate of humans and larger animals during the last Ice Age.

Report by Alan Tuffery



HAI Stand at the GPO 

The next outing of the new HAI stand at the GPO will take place on 18 April from 12 pm to 2 pm. All members who would like to lend their support would be most welcome!



Chaplaincy News

HSE Meetings
The HSE is holding private meetings with each faith and secular group as part of the work of its Chaplaincy Council. One purpose is to hear from each such group the issues most important to them. HAI Board member Willie Collins, Humanist Chaplain Norma McElligott and Director of Chaplaincy Services Nic Johnson met with the HSE and expanded on our desire for equal accommodation of Humanist chaplains and patients at HSE-funded institutions. Both parties considered the meeting very useful and productive.
The Religion Question on the Census
Long-time members may remember our effort to have the religion question on the census changed to one which would yield more reliable results. This effort has been on-going for over ten years! The importance of this effort is to assure reliable results are obtained since many government decisions are made on the basis of the religious affiliation of the population.
As a result of our meeting with the Taoiseach on January 29 we have been able to arrange a meeting with the Chief Statistician of the CSO. This meeting is expected to take place within the next few weeks. Board members Niamh Kelly and Nic Johnson will represent the HAI at this meeting. ‘One large step for the HAI. One larger step for equality for the non-religious.’
Report by Nic Johnson, Director of Chaplaincy Services


Volunteers for History Team

Nic Johnson has generously donated personal papers about Irish Humanism from 1930s onwards to the National Archive which are currently being catalogued.  Http://www.nationalarchives.ie/Following the success of our 21st Anniversary Celebrations last year in Galway, a small group of volunteers is interested in preparing a history project in time for our 25th Anniversary in 2018!Are there other members who have material they would like to lend or donate?

We welcome volunteers to join us in setting up a HAI History Team.

  • Initially we are seeking names of interested HAI members and friends.
  • We then propose a meeting to share ideas & set goals and objectives which will contribute to the historical record of the HAI.

If you are interested in getting involved, wish to donate/loan any items/documents, or have any advice/skills or experience to share, please email: [email protected] or speak to Mairead Doyle on 087 8135915.



First Meeting of North-West Humanists

 On Sunday, 22nd March, several brave Sligonians made it over the border into Leitrim to create the first North-West Humanist meeting in Paddy’s Bar, Main Street, Carrick on Shannon. We soon realised we were a group of like-minded people with similar interests and concerns.
We shared our diverse experiences of living without religion, in Ireland and beyond. There was much interest and discussion about what it means to call oneself a Humanist, and how this might differ from calling oneself an Atheist.
It became clear that we all share concerns about end-of-life issues and funeral rites / rights. Indeed, we proposed that the next time we meet, we look at forms such as Think Ahead and Living Wills.
We were made to feel very welcome in Paddy’s Bar, and were presented with more sandwiches than we could cope with! We have a number of ideas for future activities, including a threat to arrive en masse at a Dublin meeting.
From now on, we will be meeting in Paddy’s Bar on the third Sunday of every month (19th April is the next date for your diary) from 2.30pm to 4.30pm. For directions, train / bus times and car-pooling, contact Isolde on [email protected] or 086 8820445.
Report by Isolde Carmody


Contributions from Members

If you have constructive comments or feedback on this e-Newsletter, Board meetings, the organisation in general, and/or are able to contribute to the goals of the HAI in any way, please let us know.And if you have news items or links you would like to share with other HAI members, please send them for possible inclusion in the e-Newsletter by the 27th of the month.We would very much welcome your contributions!

The email address is [email protected]



New Groups and Local Humanist Groups 

New GroupsCalling all members in Westport and local areas!  Séamus O’Connell is interested in starting a local group, and would like any interested members to contact him on 087 245 35 36 or email
[email protected]Local Groups

North-West Humanists meet on the third Sunday of the month in Paddy’s Bar, Main Street, Carrick-on-Shannon at 2.30 p.m.  Contact Isolde Carmody on [email protected] or 086 8820445.
Members from Laois, Offaly, Carlow, Kilkenny and Kildare meet on the second Friday of the month at 8.00 p.m. in the Aspect Hotel, Kilkenny  Contact Peter Deevy on 087 2570855 for further details.

Details of Cork Humanists’ meetings are on http://corkhumanists.weebly.com/ or you can contact Geraldine O’Neill on 086 812 8892.

North Coast Humanists meet every second Tuesday of the month at 6. 30 pm in the foyer of Lodge Hotel, Coleraine. New faces are welcome. For more information, contact: [email protected]com  or 07818036404.

The Mid-West Humanists group includes people from Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary who meet on the third Wednesday of each month at 20:00 in Limerick – the Absolute Hotel, Sir Harry’s Mall, Limerick. Meeting notice at www.midwesthumanists.com. For more information contact Peter O’Hara on 086 8155102 or email [email protected].

Serving Humanists in Galway and surrounding areas, Humanists West meet in Galway city on the last Sunday of each month. The venue from Sunday 26 October 2014 will be the Cottage Bar, 76 Salthill Road Lower, Galway. The meetings start at 1.00 p.m. For more information contact Garry O’Lochlainn on [email protected] or 087 2222726.



Living Wills

Advanced Healthcare DirectiveAdvance directives are written legal documents by which patients express their wishes about the kind of health care they want to receive in the event they become unable to make their own treatment decisions. This usually means if he or she is physically or mentally incapacitated or otherwise unable to makes these desires known. They are designed to allow competent patients the opportunity to guide future health care decisions. Advance directives include living wills and medical powers of attorney, sometimes called durable powers of attorney. It takes the decision away from family members, thus reducing their stress at a vulnerable time.More information and downloads are available from http://www.worldrtd.net/organization/living-wills-trust-lwt or contact Daphne Wynne, 01 2802879, for further information.
Humanist Association of Ireland  •  34B Royal Terrace West  •  Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin Ireland
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