The atheist ‘ghost’ at Church State meeting

Leo Varadkar and other Government members met with representatives of no fewer than 28 religious and non-religious organisations at Dublin Castle yesterday. The Government in one of its own press releases described the meeting as ‘Church State dialogue’, but gave the same amount of space and representation at the event to the Catholic Church, huge in size, and tiny Atheist Ireland.

This is a bit last organising a meeting between Government Ministers and beef farmers – a group hugely important to the Irish economy – and then inviting along the tiny vegan lobby who are fierce critics of beef farming. Why would you do that?

It makes sense for there to be some contact between the vegan lobby and the Government. They deserve to be heard, but to have them at the same meeting as beef farmers and to give them equal space? Well, we’d understand it if the beef farmers decided not to turn up at all.

In the words of the Government press release, the plenary meeting at Dublin Castle yesterday (Thursday), was “organised as part of the Church State Structured Dialogue Process, which was established in 2005 and forms part of the Government’s commitment to carry out wide-ranging and inclusive consultation on public policy”.

Again, this begs the question, why have Atheist Ireland there, or the Humanist Association of Ireland? If it is Church State dialogue, then have members of the Churches there, and not their critics as well. The Government can meet them another day.

In point of fact, numerous religious organisations were present apart from the Catholic Church, among them obvious ones like the main Protestant Churches as well as members of the Jewish community and the Muslim community. The Irish Buddhist Union was also in attendance, the Eire Vedanta Society, Seven-Day Adventists and so on. (The full list is below).

No weighting system of any kind was used. It did not matter whether the religion in question was big, small, long-established in the country with deep roots and huge historical influence, or newly arrived. The current level of contribution by a religious organisation to the common good in terms of (for example) the number of schools, hospitals, amount of charitable outreach etc. didn’t count for anything either.

Now, it will be said that the nature of the meeting reflects the Government’s respect for ‘diversity’. But on that basis whenever an important civic event takes place, tiny parties like Aontu and Renua should be given equal billing with the likes of Fianna Fail.

This would very rarely if ever happen because Fianna Fail represents far more people. Appeals to ‘diversity’ in this case would only take you so far. Fianna Fail’s numerous supporters around the country might wonder why, one-for-one, they count for less than Renua supporters, or Social Democrat supporters for that matter.

To give one relatively small example; last August at Dublin Castle, members of civil society were invited to hear addresses by Leo Varadkar and Pope Francis. Various newspaper editors were in the audience. No-one from The Irish Catholic, the country’s main Catholic paper, had been invited. Why was that? Is it because the paper is small? That explanation counted for nothing at Dublin Castle this week.

It’s that The Irish Catholic sells far fewer copies than say, The Irish Independent, but it is a Catholic paper, it dates backs to 1888 and the occasion was a visit by the head of the Catholic Church worldwide. A representative should have been invited.

In any case, the meeting called to mind something Professor Ryszard Leguto says in his book, ‘The Demon in Democracy’. In the chapter on religion, he writes: “Under the banner of equality the religion that has been of paramount importance is being equalised with the religions that had no importance at all. In concrete terms, the equalisation means that Christianity must be drastically reduced while other religions with little impact on European identities are given a tremendous boost”.

Legutko does not of course mean that minority religions are literally of no value. He means you cannot pretend that in historically and overwhelmingly Christian countries, Buddhism (say) is of equal importance with Christianity. We would not pretend that in Thailand, Christianity is as important to society as Buddhism.


List of organisations present at the meeting.

  • Ahlul Bayt Islamic Centre of Ireland
  • Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Ireland
  • Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland
  • Atheist Ireland
  • Church of Ireland
  • Dublin Council of Churches
  • Éire Vedanta Society
  • Evangelical Alliance Ireland
  • Humanist Association of Ireland
  • Irish Buddhist Union
  • Irish Council of Churches
  • Irish Jewish Community
  • Islamic Centre of Ireland
  • Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland
  • Islamic Foundation of Ireland
  • Lutheran Church in Ireland
  • Methodist Church in Ireland
  • National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Ireland
  • Presbyterian Church in Ireland
  • Redeemed Christian Church of God
  • Religious Society of Friends
  • Roman Catholic Church in Ireland
  • Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Ireland
  • Sikh Community in Ireland
  • Sufi Muslim Community in Ireland
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day-Saints in Ireland
  • The Russian Orthodox Church in Ireland
  • Vedic Hindu Cultural Centre Ireland