Michael Nugent

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For the American football placekicker, see Mike Nugent. For the American soccer player, see Mike Nugent (soccer). For the Australian Paralympic athlete, see Mike Nugent (athlete).
Michael Nugent
Michael Nugent
Born (1961-06-01) 1 June 1961 (age 53)
Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Education St. Aidan's C.B.S.
Dublin Institute of Technology
Occupation Writer
Known for Writing I, Keano; Challenging Irish blasphemy law
Title Chairperson, Atheist Ireland
Religion None

Michael Nugent (born 1 June 1961) is an Irish writer and activist. He has written three books, co-written two and was one of the three writers of comedy musical play I, Keano. He has campaigned on many political issues, often with his late wife Anne Holliday, and he is chairperson of the advocacy group Atheist Ireland. He argues that atheism provides a better model of reality, and a better basis for morality, than believing in gods; that atheists can enjoy the benefits that many people get from religion, without the harmful effects; and that the state should be secular, promoting neither religion nor atheism.[1] He writes a blog about happiness and atheism, and he supports Bohemians and Leeds United football clubs.

Early life[edit]

Nugent was completing a project on the Gospels in primary school when he started to question the "comic book" nature of the Bible.[2] He attended St. Aidan's C.B.S. secondary school in Whitehall in Dublin. He graduated in visual communications in 1983 at the College of Marketing and Design, now part of the Dublin Institute of Technology. He has since addressed graduate events at both institutions.[3][4][5] In 1983, he was elected president of the college students' union and students' representative on the Dublin City Council Vocational Education Committee.[6][7] In 1984, he was defeated when he ran for the post of education officer in the Union of Students in Ireland, in opposition to Joe Duffy, then USI president, who is now a broadcaster with RTE. He then took a course in product development, and set up as a freelance designer.[8]


In 2009 Nugent married his longtime partner Anne Holliday, after she was diagnosed with cancer. She died on 9 April 2011, aged 57. Holliday and Nugent were founder members in 1988 of New Consensus, the group which called for the revision of the Republic's territorial claim on the North and devolved government for the people of Northern Ireland based on "mutual respect, civil liberty and freely given allegiance", and they helped to organise the Peace Train campaign to end disruption of the north-south rail link by the IRA. Holliday was also a Simon Community volunteer, a founder member of the Limerick chapter of the Irish Georgian Society, campaigned to save Wood Quay, and was active in residents rights issues. She worked as a secretary at the law firm Matheson Ormsby Prentice, a Dáil secretary for TDs Michael Keating and Roger Garland, personal assistant to National Museum Director Pat Wallace, in media relations and special projects at the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, and in the Tánaiste's office at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.[9]


In 1993 Nugent turned his hand to writing and teamed up with Sam Smyth, the Irish journalist and broadcaster. Between 1993 and 2005 Nugent wrote three books, co-wrote two and was one of the writing team on I, Keano, a musical comedy play.



Nugent, with Arthur Mathews and Paul Woodfull, co-wrote I, Keano, a comedy musical play about footballer Roy Keane leaving the Republic of Ireland national football team before the 2002 FIFA World Cup. It was presented as a mock-epic melodrama about an ancient Roman legion preparing for war.[10][11] In its first two years, over half a million people watched it, generating €10m ($13m) in ticket sales.[12]


Dear John was a number one best-seller in Ireland,[13][14][15] co-written by Nugent and Sam Smyth.[16] By writing prank letters, Nugent and Smyth convinced then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds to help the fictitious 'John' seek a grant from the Industrial Development Authority to produce dog bowls modelled on dinner plates; prompted Charles Haughey to meet 'John' to help fund a 'Bring Back Charlie' campaign, and provoked Pope John Paul II to pray for 'John's' children because his kids put condoms on the family chess-set bishops.[17]

The Irish Times included Ireland on the Internet among its top ten computer books of 1995.[18] That's Ireland – A Miscellany, co-written with Damien Corless, was a hardback best-seller[19] that included such trivia as that three in every ten TDs since 1922 have been called some variation of Paddy, Mick, Sean or Seamus, and that when the Pope held his youth Mass in Galway in 1979, each diocese was asked to send a baker in white overalls and a lame person with a stick or crutches.[20][21][22]

In Absurdly Yours, Nugent pitched a new series of prank letters, ranging from planes without seats (for Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary) to scaffolding on Mount Everest (the Nepalese Government responded it would be "inappropriate"). The FAI offered to help with his invention of a left-footed football, but the GAA replied that they could detect a wind-up from 1,000 yards.[23]


In 1986, Nugent joined the newly founded Progressive Democrats, working with Michael Keating TD who he had befriended during his VEC days. He soon left the PDs, saying that he was disillusioned with the clientilist system and that he believed in the need to tackle the Northern Ireland problem on a cross-party basis.[24]

In the late 1980s, Nugent was spokesperson for a campaign against the conviction of two Tallaght youths for robbery and assault. In 1990, Taoiseach Charles Haughey assured the youths' families and Nugent that new evidence would be considered.[25][26] In 1993, the government announced a new law to enable this to happen and, in 2001, the case was declared a miscarriage of justice.[27][28]

New Consensus[edit]

In 1988, Nugent co-founded the New Consensus peace group with his partner Anne Holliday and Michael Fitzpatrick. He also chaired the group. Its launch meeting in April 1989 announced its aims as challenging ambivalence about murder in Northern Ireland, and promoting a democratic, pluralist and non-sectarian society with integrated education, a bill of rights and revision of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution.[29]

In 1992, after an IRA bomb killed eight Protestant workmen in Teebane Cross, Nugent and six other men protested by chaining themselves across the entrance of the Sinn Féin office in Dublin.[30] New Consensus also organised peace rallies and pickets of Sinn Féin and UDA offices, and collections of flowers after paramilitary killings.[31][32][33]

Sinn Féin regularly said that New Consensus did not protest against violence by the security forces in Northern Ireland.[34] Nugent responded that they protested when agents of the British or Irish States acted outside the law, although this never happened[35] When New Consensus picketed the Belfast offices of the loyalist UDA, some said that this was only in response to criticism of imbalance. Also some single-issue peace groups, such as Peace 93 and the Peace Train Organisation, distanced themselves from the political aims of New Consensus.[36]

In 1970 Sinn Féin had split into Provisional and Official Sinn Féin, with Official Sinn Féin later becoming the Workers' Party and then Democratic Left before merging with the Labour Party. This mirrored a split within the IRA, which split into the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA. The Official IRA officially decommissioned in 2010. Although the group declined in support from 1972 it remained linked to Official Sinn Fein and was frequently accused of committing robberies and fraud to fund the party.[37][38] Some political commentators such as Vincent Browne and Paddy Prendeville said that the Workers' Party and Democratic Left had an attitude to Northern Ireland that was close to Ulster unionism.[39] New Consensus was regularly derided by Sinn Féin and a number of commentators who stated that the group was a front for the Workers' Party. During pickets members of Sinn Féin would challenge picketers about the Official IRA and killings and acts associated with the group.[40] Both New Consensus and the parties denied this.[41]

Libel case[edit]

In 1996, Nugent, Anne Holliday and Michael Fitzpatrick won a libel action against the Irish author and historian Tim Pat Coogan and Harper Collins Publishers over a claim that "New Consensus" was an offshoot of Official Sinn Fein. The author and publishers apologised in court, stating they had made a mistake.[42][43]


In 1992, Nugent highlighted that Veritas, a bookshop owned by the Catholic Bishops, was breaking the law by selling an anti-abortion book, Closed by Joseph Scheidler, which contained abortion clinic contact details for potential protestors.[44] Under Irish law at the time no contact details of any abortion service could be published.

Joycean home[edit]

In 1996, he and his partner Anne Holliday organised an email campaign to protest against the proposed demolition of James Joyce's childhood home in Drumcondra. The campaign received messages of support from Joyce scholars in Britain, Australia, Canada and the US, which were passed on to Dublin Corporation.[45]

Council election candidate[edit]

In 1999, he was a local election candidate for Dublin City Council, running for Fine Gael in the Ballymun-Whitehall local electoral area, but he failed to be elected.[46][47]

European Investment Bank[edit]

In 2000, Nugent helped to stop the Irish government appointing a disgraced former judge, Hugh O'Flaherty, to the European Investment Bank. The Bank accepted Nugent's argument that they had a statutory duty to consider other candidates, and he forwarded the CV of Irish Senator and business editor Shane Ross.[48][49] After public pressure, O'Flaherty withdrew his candidacy.[50]

Football related activism[edit]

Nugent supports Bohemians and Leeds United football clubs.[51] In 2002, he helped to prevent the Football Association of Ireland from selling broadcast rights for international matches to Sky television, but failed in an attempt to create a representative body for Irish football fans.[52] In 2008, he was removed as a director of Bohemian Football Club after he questioned the viability of the club's growing expenditure.[53] Two years later, the club was reported to be entering the most critical stage in its history.[54]

Atheist Ireland[edit]

Nugent is the inaugural chairperson of Atheist Ireland, an advocacy group for an ethical and secular society free from superstition and supernaturalism. Its first AGM in July 2009 outlined specific aims, including the removal of references to God from the Irish constitution, the introduction of a secular education system, and a campaign to encourage people to read the Bible.[55]

As chairperson of Atheist Ireland, Nugent has strongly opposed the law against blasphemous libel introduced by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and passed by the Oireachtas in July 2009. Nugent described it as "silly and dangerous", and argued that ideas should always be open to criticism and ridicule.[56][57] As part of the campaign, he was involved in the formation of the parody Church of Dermotology, which satirises organised religion and the concept of blasphemy,[58] and in the launch of a website opposing the bill, called Blasphemy.ie. When the law came into force on 1 January 2010, Atheist Ireland published a list of 25 blasphemous quotes on this website to challenge it.[59][60][61][62] In March 2010 the Justice Minister proposed that a referendum should be held to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.[63]

Nugent also used the blasphemy law to highlight other areas of the Irish Constitution which he felt were anomalous. He pointed out that to become a judge, a member of the Irish Council of State, or President of Ireland, a candidate must first swear a religious oath. He said that amendments were immediately required to address all such issues.[64]

In June 2010, Nugent spoke at the Gods and Politics international atheist conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.[65] In August he called for the removal of the daily Angelus from RTÉ, saying that it amounted to a free advert for the Catholic Church, and he debated the issue on RTÉ radio with Roger Childs, RTÉ's editor of religious programmes.[66][67][68] In October he addressed a meeting in Brussels at which the presidents of the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council discussed the fight against poverty and social exclusion with representatives of philosophical non-confessional organisations.[69]

In March 2011, Nugent criticised the question "What is your religion?” in the coming Irish census. He said the census should instead ask "Do you have a religion?” and "If so, what is it?” He asked nonreligious Irish people to tick the No Religion box.[70] He also predicted that moderate religious belief will become a minority position in many countries. He said that religion is being squeezed by science, which undermines its claims about reality, and secularism, which erodes its positions on morality.[71]

In June 2011, Nugent was the opening speaker at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin, Ireland,[72] which adopted the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and launched Atheist Alliance International, a newly restructured umbrella group for atheists worldwide.[73] Nugent told the convention that atheists were arrogant "because we do not believe that the entire universe was created for our benefit" and because they did not believe "that the most powerful being ever created a universe of over 100 billion galaxies, each with over 100 billion stars like our sun, which existed for 14 billion years, and then picked one of the 100 billion galaxies and picked one of the 100 billion stars in that galaxy, and picked one planet revolving around that star and of the million species on that planet he picked one animal member of all those species and said: ‘I’ve really got to tell that guy to stop gathering sticks on the Sabbath’.”[74]

In June 2011, irate Catholics protested against an art exhibition in University College Cork that included an image of the Madonna in a bikini by Hispanic artist Alma Lopez. Their calls for bans and protests were countered on RTÉ by Nugent, who later commented: "It was like discussing the rules of quidditch with people who believe Harry Potter was a documentary."[75]

In September 2012, he said on RTÉ that the Irish blasphemy law was influencing blasphemy debates at the United Nations and in Islamic countries.[76]

Media and talks[edit]

Nugent has been profiled or interviewed in the Irish Times,[77] the Sunday Business Post,[78] the Sunday Independent[79] and the BBC Mundo Spanish language website.[80] He has been interviewed on various broadcast media including the BBC World Service,[81] NPR's All Things Considered,[82] and RTE's Prime Time,[83] Ryan Tubridy,[84] Today with Pat Kenny,[85] Spirit Moves,[86] and Seoige and O'Shea.[87]

Nugent also speaks and debates in Ireland and internationally. He has spoken in Ireland at Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, Dublin Institute of Technology, University College Cork, National University of Ireland Galway and Maynooth, and the Royal College of Surgeons. He has spoken internationally at the South Place Ethical Society and the Muslim Debate Initiative in London, England; the 2010 Gods and Politics Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark; the 2011 World Atheist Convention in Dublin, Ireland; and the 2012 European Atheist Conference in Cologne, Germany.[88]


  1. ^ Give us a state that's not religious nor atheist, but secular Michael Nugent, Irish Times, 19 October 2010
  2. ^ Our 256,000 (and counting) atheists, agnostics, humanists and non-religious Roisin Ingle, Irish Times, 4 June 2011
  3. ^ Awards night St. Aidan's C.B.S., September 2005
  4. ^ DIT end of year exhibition Irish Times, 1 June 2004
  5. ^ DIT presents the most wide-ranging graduate exhibition in Ireland Dublin Institute of Technology, 1 June 2004
  6. ^ Fees at VEC colleges to be increased by up to 125% Maev-Ann Wren, Irish Times, 29 July 1983
  7. ^ College ‘may be forced to close’ Irish Times, 1 March 1984
  8. ^ Saturday profile: a man with his own agenda Lorna Siggins, Irish Times, 3 April 1993
  9. ^ Founder member of New Consensus peace group Obituary, Irish Times, 16 April 2011
  10. ^ Review of I, Keano, Anthony Garvey, The Stage, 17 February 2005
  11. ^ Review of I, Keano, James Ducker, The Times, 2 March 2006
  12. ^ I, Keano still has fans in raptures Irish Examiner, 31 January 2007
  13. ^ Bestsellers Irish Times, 11 December 1993
  14. ^ Bestsellers Irish Times, 8 January 1994
  15. ^ Bestsellers Irish Times, 29 January 1994
  16. ^ Dear John letters catch social pillars on the hop Tom Reddy, Sunday Independent, 8 November 1993
  17. ^ Two wits to woo Review of That's Ireland, Henry McDonald, The Observer, 1 February 2004
  18. ^ Dead trees and ink '95 Michael Cunningham, Irish Times, 14 December 1995
  19. ^ Bestsellers Sunday Independent, 7 March 2004
  20. ^ You couldn’t make it up Review of That's Ireland, Brian Boyd, Irish Times, 14 November 2003
  21. ^ Reference book of the ridiculous Review of That's Ireland, Sunday Business Post, 23 November 2003
  22. ^ Two wits to woo Review of That's Ireland, Henry McDonald, The Observer, 1 February 2004
  23. ^ You can fool some of the people Review of Absurdly Yours, Liam Mackey, Irish Examiner, 27 November 2004
  24. ^ Saturday profile: a man with his own agenda Lorna Siggins, Irish Times, 3 April 1993
  25. ^ Haughey assures Tallaght father on son’s case Jackie Gallagher, Irish Times, 24 October 1990
  26. ^ Second man in Tallaght case released Michael Foley, Irish Times, 25 October 1990
  27. ^ Tallaght men say campaign to clear names continues Jim Dunne and Edward O'Loughlin, Irish Times, 10 April 1993
  28. ^ Court declares miscarriage of justice in Tallaght Two case RTÉ News, 20 March 2001
  29. ^ New Consensus group launches constitution Irish Times, 25 April 1989
  30. ^ Bomb protest at Sinn Fein HQ Marie O'Halloran, Irish Times, 21 January 1992
  31. ^ Groups work in tandem against terrorist violence Jim Cusack, Irish Times, 29 March 1993
  32. ^ Minute’s silence before match sought for pub victims Elaine Keogh, Irish Times, 24 June 1994
  33. ^ TDs take part in protest picket Irish Times, 4 February 1991
  34. ^ Groups work in tandem against terrorist violence Jim Cusack, Irish Times, 29 March 1993
  35. ^ Bomb protest at Sinn Fein HQ Marie O'Halloran, Irish Times, 21 January 1992
  36. ^ Saturday profile: a man with his own agenda Lorna Siggins, Irish Times, 3 April 1993
  37. ^ Three more Northern Ireland terrorist groups lay down their arms[dead link] The Times
  38. ^ http://www.politico.ie/component/content/article/221-politics/5428-sfwp-in-the-shadow-of-a-gunman-part-1.html] The secret world of SFWP. Magill magazine 1982
  39. ^ The Longest War: Northern Ireland and the IRA by K. Kelley (1988) pg. 270); Swan,Official Irish Republicanism, Chapter 8; Politics in the Republic of Ireland by John Coakley and Michael Gallagher (2004), Pg. 28
  40. ^ The Lost Revolution the Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party pg 456
  41. ^ Groups work in tandem against terrorist violence Jim Cusack, Irish Times, 29 March 1993
  42. ^ Coogan IRA book withdrawn in legal row Geraldine Collins, Irish Independent, 16 September 1995
  43. ^ Peace group paid damages by author, publishers Irish Times, 28 November 1996
  44. ^ Challenge to Veritas anti-abortion book Paul O'Neill, Irish Times, 17 February 1992
  45. ^ Cyberworld Rallies to Defend House of Artist as Young Man Frank McDonald, Irish Times, 21 June 1996
  46. ^ Of the community, by the community Brendan O'Connor, Sunday Independent, 6 June 1999
  47. ^ Nugent’s local election performance in 1999 ElectionsIreland.Org
  48. ^ Bank is prepared to see other candidates Mark Brennock, Irish Times, 1 July 2000
  49. ^ EIB Must Retain Independence in Decision-making Michael Nugent, Irish Times, 8 June 2000
  50. ^ Historic defeat for cronyism as Hugh O’Flaherty bows out Fintan O'Toole, Irish Times, 2 September 2000
  51. ^ You can fool some of the people Review of Absurdly Yours, Liam Mackey, Irish Examiner, 27 November 2004
  52. ^ Fans Forum Hopes to Unite Varied Interests Mary Hannigan, Irish Times, 19 July 2002
  53. ^ Bohs crisis intensifies as Nugent forced out Neil Ahern, Irish Independent, 7 August 2008
  54. ^ Bohs in bother but League must take share of blame Mark Gallagher, Mail on Sunday, 22 August 2010
  55. ^ Blasphemy law a return to middle ages – Dawkins Alison Healy, Irish Times, 13 July 2009
  56. ^ Father Ted creators back challenge to the blasphemy bill Henry McDonald, The Observer, 5 July 2009
  57. ^ Blasphemy law is silly, dangerous and unjust Michael Nugent, Irish Times, 10 July 2009
  58. ^ Senator David Norris welcomes Nugent and Church of Dermotology Transcript of Seanad debate, 9 July 2009
  59. ^ Irish atheists challenge new blasphemy laws Henry McDonald, The Guardian, 1 January 2010
  60. ^ Atheists challenge blasphemy law Sarah McInerney, Sunday Times, 3 January 2010
  61. ^ Atheists challenge Ireland's new blasphemy law Karla Adam, Washington Post, 3 January 2010
  62. ^ Links to news coverage of challenge to blasphemy law Blasphemy.ie, 1–7 January 2010
  63. ^ Ahern proposes Autumn referendum on blasphemy Sunday Times, 14 March 2010
  64. ^ Atheists fight to keep God out of Irish law Henry McDonald, The Observer, 3 May 2009
  65. ^ Speakers Gods and Politics, 18–20 June 2010
  66. ^ Angelus still ringing with controversy 60 years on Conall O Fatharta, Irish Examiner, 18 August 2010
  67. ^ Sixty years of the Angelus Ruth McDonald, Sunday Sequence, BBC Radio Ulster, 20 August 2010
  68. ^ The Angelus Brenda Donohue, Mooney Goes Wild, RTE Radio 1, 24 August 2010
  69. ^ Press release and list of participants European Commission, 15 October 2010
  70. ^ Atheists tick off census for religious leaning Justine McCarthy, Sunday Times, 6 March 2011
  71. ^ Losing faith with religions Colin Coyle, Sunday Times, 27 March 2011
  72. ^ Dublin hosts first atheist congress Patsy McGarry, Irish Times, 1 June 2011
  73. ^ Dawkins urges constitutional reform to remove church role Patsy McGarry, Irish Times, 6 June 2011
  74. ^ World atheist convention chairman of Irish group explains atheist 'arrogance' Patsy McGarry, Irish Times, 6 June 2011
  75. ^ Ireland's poisonous blasphemy debate Padraig Reidy, The Guardian, 24 June 2011
  76. ^ Radio interview about the Irish blasphemy law Today with Pat Kenny, RTE, 3 September 2012
  77. ^ Saturday profile: a man with his own agenda Lorna Siggins, Irish Times, 3 April 1993
  78. ^ First Person Alex Meehan, Sunday Business Post, 28 June 2009
  79. ^ Of the community, by the community Brendan O'Connor, Sunday Independent, 6 June 1999
  80. ^ Ateismo: “No descarto nada” BBC Mundo, 7 August 2009
  81. ^ Does Democracy have to be secular? BBC World Service, 23 June 2009
  82. ^ Irish befuddled by new blasphemy law All Things Considered NPR, 12 January 2010
  83. ^ Report by Katie Hannon on Irish blasphemy law Prime Time RTE, 12 January 2010
  84. ^ Radio interview about atheismPart 1 part 2 Ryan Tubridy Show, RTE, 1 July 2009
  85. ^ Radio interview about the Irish blasphemy law Today with Pat Kenny, RTE, 3 September 2012
  86. ^ Radio interview about the Christian heritage of Europe Spirit Moves, RTE, 17 May 2009
  87. ^ TV interview about I, Keano Seoige and O'Shea, RTE, 24 January 2007
  88. ^ Video of Michael Nugent debates and talks Michael Nugent website

External links[edit]