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Atheist Ireland, Not In My Name

All things are political, even religion. Or the lack thereof. My secular atheism influences my view of faith in Ireland’s complex history, both for good and for ill. However there are other secular atheists on this island nation whose opinions are shaped more by long-standing political aspirations than concerns about the past or contemporary role of religious beliefs. Take this grotesque statement issued by Michael Nugent, the chairperson of Atheist Ireland, on his grouping’s refusal to attend the recent centenary celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising:

“Atheist Ireland has declined an invitation from the Irish Government to attend today’s State Ceremony at the GPO, and State Reception in Dublin Castle, marking the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising. We welcome the intention of the Government to be inclusive of people of all religious and nonreligious beliefs in these events.

Atheist Ireland promotes an ethical secular Ireland. 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 Irish Government is reinforcing the religious connotations of the rising by marking its anniversary on the wrong date. The 1916 rising began on 24 April 1916…

We respect the right of the Irish Government and all people of any beliefs, including members of Atheist Ireland, to commemorate the 1916 rising.”

The argument that the Easter Rising involved an “undemocratic group killing innocent people” is of course not only partisan but utterly spurious. One can only hold that position if one accepts the historic legitimacy of Britain’s authority over Ireland at the start of the 20th century, and the validity of the United Kingdom as then constituted. To voice opposition to the secular republic proclaimed in Dublin in 1916 is to implicitly justify the exercise of imperial power from London during the same period. If the former was illegitimate then the latter must have been legitimate. Thus the members of the British military and paramilitary forces killed in Ireland during that fateful Easter week one hundred years ago become “innocent people“, while the members of the Irish revolutionary forces who carried out the killings are an “undemocratic group“.

Furthermore, the statement itself and the terminology it uses betrays a curious mindset, an almost subconscious hesitancy over the very status of the modern nation state of Ireland itself. For the invitation comes not from the “Government” but from the “Irish Government”, as if such an authority required further defining. What other government would be issuing an invite to the 1916 State Ceremony at the GPO and the 1916 State Reception in Dublin Castle? That of China?

For the record Michael Nugent, the face of Atheist Ireland, was formerly associated with two conservative political parties, the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael, unsuccessfully running for the latter in the local elections of 1999. He was one of the founding members of New Consensus, a controversial pressure group opposed to (Provisional) Sinn Féin and the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army during the latter years of the conflict in the north-east of Ireland. In the late 1980s and ’90s he was part of its campaign demanding constitutional acceptance of British-imposed partition and the authority of the UK over the Six Counties. His late wife, Anne Holliday, as well as helping to found New Consensus, was also associated with the establishment of the fringe organisation, Reform, a right-wing neo-unionist style grouping. That body recently held a knowingly provocative joint-ceremony in Dublin with the sectarian Orange Order commemorating the soldiers and officers of the British occupation forces killed during the Easter Rising of 1916.

To misquote Matthew 7:16, Ye shall know them by their deeds

2 comments on “Atheist Ireland, Not In My Name

  1. Of course the conquest of Ireland by the Monarchy of the next door island was also on religious grounds – viz by permission of the Pope of Rome Adrian V (an Englishman) and then by Henry II who claimed it in part as a retribution for the murder of the “troublesome priest” in Canterbury (1170). Would your atheist friend care to comment – maybe the statute of limitations applies?


  2. Good digging Sionnach.
    You’d have to wonder at the government inviting an organisation like Atheist Ireland to 1916 events anyway. I presume it’s just this joker’s hobbyhorse – if not I’d be fairly annoyed if I was a member/follower and my leaders decided to involve themselves in the national question.


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