Atheist Ireland the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland welcome that the Report of the Commission of the Defence Forces, published yesterday, has recommended that:
- A number of outdated practices should be discontinued, including but not limited to the convening of a Roman Catholic mass associated with an induction ceremony; and
- The Defence Forces’ Chaplaincy service needs to be adjusted in line with international best practice to better reflect the religious/non‐religious affiliations of younger Irish people today.
Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland, made a joint submission to the Commission calling for these changes. In our submission we said that:
- Defence Force personnel have been coerced to take part in Catholic or Catholic-led religious ceremonies without any effort made to put in place rules/guidelines to ensure that they need not participate on the grounds of conscience.
- The Defence Forces discriminate on religious grounds by failing to put the position of Chaplain out to tender. The position is just given, almost always, to a nominee of a Bishop of the Catholic Church.
- The only other Church allowed to nominate Chaplains is the Church of Ireland. There are no Chaplains or nonreligious equivalents for members with no religion or who are of minority faiths including Evangelicals and Muslims.
We said that these practices breach:
- The Constitutional Rights of minorities in relation to Freedom of conscience, religion and belief, including Article 44.2.3 which states “The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.”
- The Defence Forces’ Public Service Duty under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act, which the Defence Forces accept that they are subject to. It also has implications on the gender ground as the Catholic Chaplains are male priests.
- The EU Equality Directive which forbids discrimination on religious grounds. The Defence Forces does not have a religious ethos but regardless the position of Chaplains is mainly offered to Catholics and one Church of Ireland Chaplain.
- Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, which provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination.
Here are the relevant sections of the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces published yesterday:
Moreover, the Commission has also noted a number of examples of outdated practices which should be discontinued. These include, but are not limited to, the convening of a Roman Catholic mass associated with an induction ceremony; treatment of pregnancy/childbirth as an irregular absence from duty; and not permitting certain styles of facial hair, such as beards. These and all other exclusionary practices should be removed. In addition, the Defence Forces’ Chaplaincy service needs to be adjusted in line with international best practice to better reflect the religious/non‐religious affiliations of younger Irish people today.” (p 97)
Should the Government decide to accept and implement the vision and recommendations proposed in this report it will result in the Defence Forces of 2030+ being a more modern, diverse organisation, with a coherent structure…. On foot of this transformation… The Defence Forces’ culture will reflect the diverse nature of modern Irish society, and embrace contemporary work practices that enhance the experience and performance of all personnel. (p 145)
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