Atheist Ireland

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Atheist Ireland
Formation30 November 2008; 10 years ago (2008-11-30)
Region served
Michael Nugent
AffiliationsAtheist Alliance International
International Humanist and Ethical Union
National Women's Council of Ireland
Coalition to Repeal the 8th

Atheist Ireland is an association of atheists based in Ireland. The group was initially founded by members of, an online community which had been set up by Seamus Murnane in June 2006. Its current chairperson is writer and activist Michael Nugent.[1] Atheist Ireland is a member of the Atheist Alliance International,[2] The International Humanist and Ethical Union IHEU,[3] The Coalition to Repeal the 8th Repeal the 8th,[4] and the National Women's Council of Ireland NWCI.[5] The group estimates it has about 500 members.[6]


Ireland has a long history of religiosity and religious conflict between its mainly Catholic and Protestant communities (a conflict which was based primarily on political reasons).

In Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church retains an influence in public funded state services such as the provision of education and health care. Atheist Ireland oppose this influence.[7]


The website, was set up in 2006 by Seamus “Catherder” Murnane. By the end of 2006 the website had over 50 members, over 500 by the end of 2007, and more than 1,000 by the end of 2008.[8] During 2008 some members started to meet socially.[9][10] In October 2008, three members ("planewaves", "dickspicer" and "FXR") independently suggested founding an atheist campaign group.[11][12][13]

Seamus Murnane emailed all members about the idea[14] and the response was overwhelmingly positive. "Boreas" started a discussion about what the aims of the organisation would be,[15] and "lampshade" collated the results.[16] Murnane arranged committee volunteers,[17] while "CTR" scheduled the inaugural meeting of the group[18] and “FXR” booked a hotel room for it.[19] Murnane arranged the agenda[20] and roles[21] for the day. Michael Nugent drafted a constitution.[22] Over 100 members voted on the group’s name.[23][24][25]

Atheist Ireland was founded at a meeting in the Central Hotel in Dublin on 30 November 2008. Its aims were to promote atheism, reason and secularism.[26][27] The meeting elected the following as officers ( usernames in brackets): Chairperson – Michael Nugent ("MichaelNugent"), Secretary – Colin Jennings ("Colin"), Finance Officer – William Hanly, Membership Officer – Frank Robinson ("FXR"), Communications Officer – Paul Lavin ("IrishKnight"), Public Events Officer – William Quill ("whig"), and Regional Officer – Grania Spingies ("Ygern").[26] After a week Robinson resigned, citing a lack of time and ability, and asking people to support the committee. He was replaced by Seamus Murnane ("Catherder").[28]


Not long after its formation, members of the community were featured prominently on radio station Clare FM to discuss the role of atheism in Irish culture.[29]

In light of amendments to Ireland's Defamation Act proposed by Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, including changes which rendered the crime of blasphemous libel prosecutable for a fine of up to €100,000 (US$135,000). This was later reduced to €25,000 (US$33,700),[30] Atheist Ireland launched a campaign of opposition to the concept of the law.[31] The group received support from author and scientist Richard Dawkins, politician Ivana Bacik, and writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, among others.[32]

Chairperson Michael Nugent described the law as "silly and unjust", and highlighted 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, and said that amendments were immediately required to address all such issues.[33]

On 1 January 2010, the date on which the law came into effect, the group published a series of potentially blasphemous quotations on its website and vowed to challenge any resulting legal action. It also said that it would be holding a series of public meetings to launch a campaign for secular constitutional reform.[34][35]

On 25 June 2015 Michael Nugent discussed Atheist Ireland's complaint about RTÉ broadcasting the Angelus, with George Hook on Newstalk Radio. Michael identified that he believed RTÉ think that their proposed alterations were appropriately inclusive, yet have failed to meet the requirements of a state funded television network. He suggested renaming the Angelus to something with a more neutral name.[36]

In 2016 Atheist Ireland refused an invitation to attend the state commemoration of the Easter Rising the chairman, Michael Nugent saying “The 1916 Rising involved an undemocratic group killing innocent people, based on a Proclamation whose authors claimed that Ireland was acting through them in the name of God...The reason for using the wrong date is to make the commemorations coincide with the Christian holiday of Easter.”[37]


Repeal of the Blasphemy Law[edit]

Defamation Bill[edit]

The Defamation Bill 2006 was being actively developed before coming to fruition in 2009 subsequently being renamed The Defamation Bill 2009. The bill was the brainchild of Irish Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan originally however a shuffle in the cabinet meant Dermot Ahern would later inherit the responsibility of being the bill's steward. It was signed on the 9/7/09 with a stipulation that it would come into effect on 1 January 2010. The law indicts the act of blasphemy as follows, A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000. He or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.[38]

The justification for re-defining the law now that has been in the Irish constitution since 1937[39] was "A spokesman for Mr Ahern maintained that under the Constitution the Minister must have a crime of blasphemy on the statute books. 'The Minister’s hands are tied in this,' said the spokesman."[40]

In response Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland spoke out publicly against the bill. He argued the proposed change was "silly and dangerous" and "incentivises outrage".[41][42]

25 blasphemous quotations[edit]

Atheist Ireland in response to the proposed law published 25 quotations from popular culture, the quotes were attributed to a wide range of sources including senior Irish politicians, highly popular artists and authors, Jesus Christ and Muhammed. 12 of the quotes were by people not resident in Ireland and 10 were by people deceased or fictitious. Atheist Ireland claimed the goal was to demonstrate the laws ineffectiveness legally as well as its intention to protect religious belief as "the legislation is so ambiguous that it’s impossible to tell how it will be interpreted by the authorities. If they attempt to prosecute us [Atheist Ireland], we will take a constitutional challenge to the courts. ”.[43] New York Times columnist Robert Mackey described Atheist Ireland's efforts as seeming "particularly tame". In an article on the Lede blog he said:

"What makes the Irish group’s attempt to break the law seem particularly tame is that it came on the same day last week that an axe-wielding man in Denmark tried to attack a cartoonist who offended millions of Muslims by publishing a drawing thought to show the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Say what you will about the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which intentionally published 12 cartoons mocking Islam in 2005, but that publication certainly showed how to cause the kind of outrage described in Ireland’s new law.

If the Irish atheists had wanted to make sure that they were breaking Ireland’s new law, they could simply have republished those cartoons, as the blogger Andrew Sullivan did last week in response to the attack on the cartoonist."


Members of Atheist Ireland themselves did not make any potentially blasphemous statements after the law was passed and no prosecutions or charges were ever considered or brought by the authorities.[citation needed]

"The proposed law does not protect religious belief; it incentivises outrage and it criminalises free speech. Under this proposed law, if a person expresses one belief about gods, and other people think that this insults a different belief about gods, then these people can become outraged, and this outrage can make it illegal for the first person to express his or her beliefs."[45]

The publication received a lot of international attention to the law.[46][47][48][49]

Shortly afterwards Pakistan began to adopt the wording of the Irish definition of blasphemy in a submission to the UN. "the uttering of matters that are grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matter held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage to a substantial number of adherents to that religion."[50]

Proposed referendum[edit]

In March 2010, Ahern's press officer said the minister might ask the cabinet to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution in autumn 2010, at the same time tentatively planned for a referendum on an amendment relating to children's rights.[51] Asked about this in the Dáil, Ahern did not offer any commitment, but said:[52]

the programme for Government did indicate the possibility of referendums on a number of issues ... If we were to have a number of referendums on one day, it would be appropriate to put to the people a question on the section of the Constitution relating to blasphemous and seditious libel.

In the event, no referendums were held before the dissolution of the 30th Dáil in January 2011 and to date no referendum on the blasphemy law has been held.

A provisional date for the referendum was announced in September 2017 for a referendum on blasphemy to be held in October 2018.[53]

25 day walk[edit]

Atheist Ireland member Paul Gill in protest of the blasphemy law walked the length of Ireland i.e. from Mizen head to Malin head, to bring attention to the issue and encourage people to vote "yes". The walk began on the 6/5/10 (International Day of Reason) and finished 31 May 2010 taking him his goal of 25 days to achieve.[54]

Secularising the Irish Constitution[edit]

In its current form the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann)[55] stipulates many preferences for theism over atheism but more specifically for Christian religions over other religions. Throughout the document there are references to God, religious offences and the Holy Trinity; some act as barriers to public offices and other references restrict the document's protection of non-Christians.

  • A legal requirement recognising crime of blasphemy as mentioned in Article 40, 6. 1° i)[56]
  • A religiously worded oath to be sworn by the President or a Judge in Article 12, 8. "In the presence of Almighty God I, do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland. May God direct and sustain me."[56]
  • The preamble of the constitution asserts all authority is derived from the Holy Trinity and all actions are done in the name of it. In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ . . .[56]

Atheist Ireland wishes for a referendum(s) that remove these references from the constitution.[57][58]

Secular education[edit]

There are approximately 3,300 primary schools in Ireland.[59] The vast majority (92%) are under the patronage of the Catholic Church who state "Catholic schools seek to reflect a distinctive vision of life and a corresponding philosophy of education, based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ".[60]

and that "Religious education, prayer and worship form an essential part of the curriculum, functioning at its core. Such learning is founded on faith and inspired by wonder at the transcendent mystery of God revealed in the complex beauty of the universe."[60]

A small minority of (1.2%) are under either multi or inter denominational schooling under the patronage of Educate Together. The remainder of the schools are stewarded by other minority religions.[59] In 2015, Secular Schools Ireland was established by a group of parents as a prospective patron body for national schools.[61]

Schools run by religious organisations, but receiving public money and recognition, cannot discriminate against pupils based upon religion or lack thereof. A sanctioned system of preference does exist, where students of a particular religion may be accepted before those who do not share the ethos of the school, in a case where a school's quota has already been reached.

This system contrasts to Ireland's agreement to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights in which a UN Human Rights Committee drew attention to the Irish Government not upholding: Freedom from Discrimination (Article 2 of the Covenant); Freedom of Conscience (Article 18); the Rights of the Child (Article 24); and Equality before the law (Article 26).[62][63]

In August 2015 Atheist Ireland published the School P.A.C.T. campaign. This outlined the 4 areas they wanted reform for in the school system to remove "religious discrimination", Patronage, Access, Curriculum and Teaching.

In July 2016 Atheist Ireland published a report on the setting up of the State exam course on religion[64], developed by the National Council for the Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). This was done under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) [65] . This showed that the course was not suitable for all religions and none, as suggested by the NCCA[66] and had a very strong bias towards Christianity.

In September 2017 Atheist Ireland used the Freedom of Information Act[65] to investigate the level of "religious indoctrination" in Education and Training Board[67] (ETB) Schools, the alternative to Catholic schools provided by state bodies. Again a strong bias towards Christianity, particularly Catholicism was found. [68][69][70] [71][72][73][74]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Nugent – Happiness, Atheism and Life Archived 11 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine Welcome to Atheist Ireland. Retrieved 3 December 2008.
  2. ^ "Home". Atheist Alliance. 2015. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  3. ^ "Our members".
  4. ^ "Who we are - Repeal Eight".
  5. ^ "Members A-Z List » Join » The National Women's Council of Ireland".
  6. ^ "Atheists label Rising rebels 'undemocratic killers'".
  7. ^ "Separate Church and State Now! Public Meetings in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Belfast with Sanal Edamaruku - Atheist Ireland". 19 November 2012.
  8. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  9. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum: View topic – Darwin Day First Annual Dinner, Retrieved 8 June 2012. Archived 29 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum: View topic – Tomorrow 5 October HAI Bushwells Hotel. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  11. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – The atheist bus. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  12. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – The atheist bus. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  13. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – Is it time to start an Irish Atheists Association?. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  14. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – Is it time to start an Irish Atheists Association?. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  15. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  16. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  17. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  18. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – Our First meeting, where we can trash out the details. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  19. ^ Atheist Ireland Forum • View topic – First Proposed Irish Atheists Group meeting booked. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  20. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  21. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  22. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  23. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  24. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  25. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  26. ^ a b "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  27. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  28. ^ "Atheist Ireland". Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  29. ^ Audio of Clare FM interview Archived 23 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  30. ^ Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill – Irish Times, Wednesday, 29 April 2009
  31. ^ Atheists fight to keep God out of Irish law – The Guardian, Sunday, 3 May 2009
  32. ^ Blasphemy law a return to middle ages – Dawkins – Irish Times, Monday, 13 July 2009
  33. ^ Blasphemy law is silly, dangerous and unjust – Irish Times, Friday, 10 July 2009
  34. ^ Irish atheists challenge new blasphemy laws – The Guardian, Friday, 1 January 2010
  35. ^ Irish atheists challenge blasphemy law – BBC News, Saturday, 2 January 2010
  36. ^ RTÉ takes a moment to reflect on appeal of Angelus – The Irish Independent, Friday, 26 June 2015
  37. ^ "Donald Clarke: This atheist dogma is beyond belief".
  38. ^ Defamation Bill 2006 [Seanad] (No.43 of 2006) – Tithe an Oireachtais. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  39. ^ History of Irish blasphemy law. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  40. ^ "Ahern defends blasphemy changes". The Irish Times. 4 April 2009.
  41. ^ "Podcast". RTÉ News. 2009. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  42. ^ "Blasphemy law is silly, dangerous and unjust". The Irish Times. 7 July 2009.
  43. ^ McInerney, Sarah. "Atheists challenge blasphemy law". The Times. London.
  44. ^ Mackey, Robert (4 January 2010). "Attempt to Break New Irish Blasphemy Law". The New York Times.
  45. ^ Reidy, Padraig (9 July 2009). "Who asked for Ireland's blasphemy law?". The Guardian. London.
  46. ^ 25 Blasphemous Quotations | Atheist Ireland. (2 January 2010). Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  47. ^ McDonald, Henry (1 January 2010). "Irish atheists challenge new blasphemy laws". The Guardian. London.
  48. ^ "Irish atheists use Bjork, Mark Twain to challenge blasphemy law". CNN. 2 January 2010.
  49. ^ Adam, Karla (3 January 2010). "Atheists challenge Ireland's new blasphemy law with online postings". The Washington Post.
  50. ^ "Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and all forms of Discrimination: Comprehensive Implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action" (PDF). United Nations General Assembly Human Right Council. 30 October 2009. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  51. ^ Coulter, Carol (17 March 2010). "Ahern to propose blasphemy amendment". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
  52. ^ "Referendum on Blasphemy". Parliamentary Debates (Official Report – Unrevised). Dáil Éireann. 25 March 2010. p. 11. Archived from the original on 11 October 2010. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
  53. ^ "Vote on abortion laws among seven planned referendums". 2017-09-26. Retrieved 2018-01-07.
  54. ^ 25-day walk for Irish blasphemy referendum. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  55. ^ "Constitution Of Ireland – Bunreacht Na hÉireann". All Party Oireachtas Commission on the Constitution. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011.
  56. ^ a b c Archived from the original on 16 May 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2010. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  57. ^ "Secular Constitution". Atheist Ireland. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  58. ^ McDonald, Henry (3 May 2009). "Atheists fight to keep God out of Irish law". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  59. ^ a b "Minister Hanafin announces intention to pilot new additional model of Primary School Patronage". Department of Education and Skills. 17 February 2007. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  60. ^ a b "A Vision for Catholic Education in Ireland" (PDF). Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  61. ^ Órla Ryan (March 14, 2016). "Secular Schools Ireland to apply to run three new primary schools in Dublin".
  62. ^ Donnelly, Jane (18 March 2009). "In my opinion: Trouble looms for State over schools' religious ethos". Irish Independent. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  63. ^ "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights". United Nations. 16 December 1996. Archived from the original on 1 September 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  64. ^ (NCCA), National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. "Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics | NCCA". NCCA. Retrieved 2018-01-07.
  65. ^ a b (eISB), electronic Irish Statute Book. "electronic Irish Statute Book (eISB)". Retrieved 2018-01-07.
  66. ^ "Religious Education". Retrieved 2018-01-07.
  67. ^ "What is an ETB? : ETBI". Retrieved 2018-01-07.
  68. ^ "Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ETB state schools have mandatory religion classes".
  69. ^ "Cavan Monaghan ETB schools do not teach Religion in a neutral objective way".
  70. ^ "Department hid emails admitting ETB religion policies are most difficult to defend".
  71. ^ "Tone tells a tale within ETB schools".
  72. ^ "ETBs pay Church For Catholic Youth Leadership courses".
  73. ^ "ETB schools pay Accord to deliver Catholic sex education".
  74. ^ "Catholic Diocesan Advisors behave like the School Inspectorate in ETB schools".

External links[edit]