The Humanist Association of Ireland passionately believes that a modern Ireland must be a secular or religiously neutral state. We actively work to achieve this goal. Have a look at some of our recent Advocacy work:
Submission to the Seanad on the Constitutional Future of the Island of Ireland
The HAI has made a submission to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the Constitutional Future of the Island of Ireland. The purpose of the public consultation process was to invite submissions from individuals, interested groups and organisations to consider the constitutional future of the Island of Ireland. In our submission, the HAI has pointed out several deficiencies in our constitution, where the non-religious are disadvantaged, and we have made several recommendations for change and for a move to a more secular constitution. (September 2022)
Mark No Religion - Census Campaign in 2022, followed up by a submission in January 2023 to the Central Statistics Office for the 2027 Census
In February 2022, the HAI launched a public information campaign encouraging all those who do not have a religion or no longer practise a religion to mark the ‘No Religion’ box on Census night, which took place the following Sunday 3rd April. The main pillars of the HAI campaign were
1. Fair representation
2. Fairness in public funding
3. Fairness in Voice and influence
In addition to highlighting the issue on social media channels, the HAI created a short information video to highlight why this issue is important and our CEO, Jillian Brennan, gave interviews on many local and national radio stations.
In previous censuses the HAI felt there was a biased nature of the census question that assumed a religious affiliation by asking ‘What is your religion’? After Census 2016, the HAI engaged in consultations with the Central Statistics Office (CSO) with a view to updating the question on religion. Following a CSO pilot survey, the Census Advisory Group decided to change the wording and the new question was: “What is your religion, if any?” with “No Religion” being the first option on the checklist. The rewording of the religion question should more accurately reflect the number of non-religious people in Ireland.
In the 1991 census, “No Religion” represented 2% of the population and this figure rose threefold to 6% in Census 2011 and made a big jump in Census 2016 to just over 10%. In fact, the 2016 census revealed that those with no religion had almost doubled to 468,400, a massive 73.4% increase making “No religion” the second largest category behind Roman Catholics.
The 2022 Census results, released at the end of May, revealed a dramatic increase in the non-religious and an accelerating rate of decline in Catholicism. The data published by the Central Statistics Office shows that the number of people identifying with ‘No religion’ increased by 63%, from 451,941 in 2016 to 736,210 in 2022. Non-religious people now represent 14% of the total population. The number of people ticking ‘Catholic’ has fallen most steeply, from 78.3% to 69%.
The results of 2022 Census clearly show that the number of non-religious people in Ireland is increasing. This should be reflected in the national and local government’s plans and policy decisions regarding resources and spending, a prime example being allocation of funding for essential services such as health, children’s education and social care. The HAI will continue to advocate for equality for the non-religious.
January 2023 Submission to the CSO
The CSO sought submissions from the public on improving the census questions for the next census in 2027. You can read the HAI’s submission here. The CSO will convene a Census Advisory Group (CAG) which will be made up of representatives of Government departments, local authorities, public bodies, the social partners, universities and research institutes, as well as CSO personnel. The CAG will examine the submissions and determine new questions or changes to existing questions. There will be a Pilot survey in selected areas in September 2024 which will test census enumeration procedures and the proposed content of the census form. The HAI made the following recommendations in their submission:
- Amend the Religion question to a two-part question:
Do you practise a religion? If yes, what religion do you practise?
- Remove the pre-selected checkboxes to allow for a written answer.
- Make the question on religion optional.
The Humanist Association of Ireland believes that implementing these changes will result in an improved and more accurate dataset, which will help with better planning in aspects of society that are heavily influenced by religion, such as schools and hospitals. This will allow for fairer representation for all citizens regardless of whether or not they have a religious belief.
Ownership of National Maternity Hospital
We wrote to the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, outlining our concern about the ownership structure for the new National Maternity Hospital. It appears that the Government is considering gifting the new National Maternity Hospital, to be built with hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money, to a private company established by the religious Sisters of Charity. (May 2021)
Judges Swearing a Religious Oath
We made a submission to the Minister for Justice, Heather Humphreys, on the General Scheme of the Judicial Appointments Commission. In advocating for the rights of the non-religious, we outlined our belief that the current requirement for Judges being constitutionally obliged to swear a religious oath is a barrier for non-religious citizens. (May 2021)
New RSE Programme for Catholic Schools
We issued a statement deploring the new syllabus on Relationships and Sexuality Education that was launched for Catholic schools. (April 2021)
HAI Publish Guide to School Admissions
The HAI published a Q&A guide for parents/guardians raising children of no faith outlining their rights when admitting their child to their local school. For many years in Ireland, parents have faced the so-called ‘baptism barrier’ when seeking a school place for their children. The introduction of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 aims to address various issues of inequality around the admissions process to schools, including religious background. In essence, the Act removes the ‘baptism barrier’ faced by so many parents to date.
The Act requires all schools to have an Admissions Policy in place and these policies will apply for admissions for the 2021/2022 school year onwards. While the removal of the ‘baptism barrier’ is a welcome move to secure the rights of children of all faiths and none to a fair education, the HAI supports the view that teaching in state-funded schools should encourage critical thinking, be objective and pluralistic. Education should encourage learning in all forms but mostly it should be inclusive and should develop a respect for learning, for each other and for difference. (February 2021)
Mother and Baby Homes Report
We issued a statement on the Mother and Baby Homes report, condemning the appalling abuse suffered by women and children at the hands of religious institutions. (January 2021)
Universal Periodic Review of Ireland
We made a submission to the Human Rights Council, Third Universal Periodic Review of Ireland, (2021), where we set out our recommendations for the improvements of the human rights of the non-religious in Ireland.
In recent years
..... we have supported so many campaigns and act as advocates wherever we are needed, including:
- Secular Education
- Change on the religion question in Census 2022
- Constitutional Reform
- Historic campaigns, such as Marriage Equality, Repeal the 8th and Blasphemy
State institutions should not biased towards any particular belief group. Our advocacy for causes like this is built upon three core beliefs when it comes to our relationship with the state:
- Differences of belief or philosophy should be fully and equitably respected in policy and accommodated in practice by public authorities
- The constitution, laws and practices of the state reflect a secular approach and are non-biased
- As we have entered the third decade of this century, we embrace the fact that Ireland is becoming a much more ethnically, culturally and philosophically diverse society. That’s why the state, which serves us all, must respect diversity without any religious bias in our constitution, laws and practices.