|Some of the many topics that were discussed:
– Past & Current Campaigns
– Election Question
– Census 2016 Tick No religion
– Changing the Religion Question on the 2021 Census
– Coalition to Repeal the 8th
– Death With Dignity
– Secular Constitution
– Changing the State Supported Chaplaincy System
The meeting was chaired by Terry Flynn with more than 50 people in attendance.
The contribution of Síle Headen, Chair of HAI, and Oisín Carey to the 1916 commemoration ceremony in Glasnevin on the same morning was noted. Terry said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had asked for a meeting with Síle Headen and that could be a positive development.
Terry went on to review various posters from HAI campaigns, opposing religious discrimination in schools, the blasphemy laws, questions for political candidates and a YES vote on the Marriage Equality referendum. Audience members suggested the same questions should be put to Seanad candidates.
The current campaign is about the Census on April 24th. The option to tick No Religion is on the form, but not clearly visible. A quarter of a million people ticked it during the census in 2011 and it is important to maximise this figure, because the government use such numbers as factors when formulating public policy. It is important to like and share the campaign on Facebook and members should indicate themselves as Going.
Ailbhe Smyth (pictured left) of the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, told us that the coalition has 60 member organisations dedicated to repeal this amendment which dates from 1983. Over 150,000 women have travelled from Ireland to Britain to have a termination since 1980, but such abortions remain illegal in Ireland and the penalty is up to 14 years in jail. Ms Smyth’s address was applauded warmly by the audience.
Nic Johnson spoke on the campaign to change the question about religion on the Census form, which he has been pursuing since 2002, and has got agreement in principle from the CSO that new wording will be used in 2021.
The issue of Death with Dignity was first raised with Dick Spicer in 1993. More recently, the HAI has moved to the use of the phrase Physician Assisted Suicide. John Halligan, TD, has proposed a Private Bember’s bill on Dying with Dignity. It was noted that Milford Care Centre has agreed to respect patient determinations under the heading Think Ahead. Physician Assisted Suicide is legal in Oregon, although there has not been much take up there, and there is similar legislation in Holland and Switzerland.
Rónán Ó Dálaigh spoke for Education Equality, which has been established as a separate organisation with a grant of €10,000 from HAI. Section 7.3C allows schools to discriminate on the grounds of religion and there is now a considerable groundswell of opposition to this among parents in Ireland. The campaign has 2,500 followers on Facebook and has been the subject of an article in the New York Times.
Not for the first time at a HAI Meeting, teachers in the audience spoke about the challenge of religious influence and discrimination in schools in the Republic. One spoke of attending a national meeting of science teachers at which a nun said grace before meals. Another said she had seen no sign in her school of the repeal of Rule 68, which had been enacted by the last government.
Willie Collins spoke about the campaign to achieve equal recognition for humanist chaplains. Religious chaplains in Irish hospitals receive a state salary of more than €45,000. . Currently the HAI has 3 qualified chaplains, one of whom , Joe Armstrong, was at the meeting. This year the BHA will train 12 new voluntary chaplains for the HAI, with a view to humanist chaplains being recognised by the HSE in due course.
Fachtna Roe then spoke of the aim of the HAI to achieve a secular state. The word Republic does not occur in Bunreacht na hEireann. So even though the special position of the Catholic Church was repealed in 1973, Fachtna does not feel that we can call ourselves a truly independent republic, as long as public officials such as judges swear allegiance to the ‘higher power’ of a supernatural being.
– Arthur Deeny