Chairperson Siobhán Walls, and Director of Ceremonies, Brian Whiteside attended a meeting in the Department of the Taoiseach on March 31st as part of the Structured Dialogue Process with Government.
This process had started a few years ago, but had come to something of a standstill in 2011. We met with Philip Hamell, Deputy Secretary to Government, Ray Henry, Head of Protocol and General Division and Mary Murphy, Secretariat to the Dialogue Process.
The meeting was very good and there was a strong feeling that this process is under way again with a commitment to keep it going. We gave an overview of the HAI, our aims and the history of our involvement with the Dialogue Process.
We said how pleased we were to have had success with the amendment to the Civil Registration Bill. We quoted the census figures, church attendance trends and the swing towards non-religious weddings and asked the question: what sort of education system do these couples want for their children? We talked about our wish for a secular education system with a change to the patronage system and said that, as a priority, we wanted the requirement for baptismal certificates stopped.
We referred to the requirement for religious oaths for high office as an example of inequality and talked about the many submissions made to the Constitutional Convention for separation of church and state. We made the case for equality for Humanist chaplains. We went through the HAI’s “Equality for the Non-Religious” publication and pointed out the UN Human Rights issues noted in it.
The census and how the religious question is asked got an airing. We drew their attention to the recent re-branding of Trinity College (current that day – they have replaced the bible for an open book on their crest) citing it as an example of a long-standing, conservative institution moving with the times. We said that Ireland, as it approaches the centenary of 1916, should become a modern, democratic republic appropriate to the 21st century.
We were asked if we had anything we could offer Irish society. We talked about what we offer the non-religious community in terms community, ceremonies, chaplaincy, etc.
Our points were well received and the process explained to us. We expect to formalise the agenda in the short term and the next step is a meeting at ministerial level to discuss the agreed agenda which can be summarised as follows:
- Education – with immediate emphasis on stopping requirement for baptismal certificates.
- Oaths – an end to the requirement for religious oaths for high office.
- Chaplaincy – equal treatment.
- Census – how the religious question is asked.
- “AOB” – religious symbolism; state function participation.
Report Siobhán Walls and Brian Whiteside