July Event — Matthew Collins, 24th July, Sunflower Bar

Our speaker this month will be Matthew Collins. Matthew may be familiar to some of you as the resident geek on BBC Northern Ireland’s Great Unanswered Questions, where he inhabits the famous wicker chair with his trusty lap-top interjecting pearls of wisdom from the world wide web. Matthew is also a stand up and we are very lucky to see him preview some of the material he will be performing at this years’ Edinburgh Festival. An academic with a love of science, puzzles, beards, big words and the game of thrones. I think you’ll agree a perfect match for an audience of skeptics.

Put the date in your calendar:
Facebook Event
Wed 24th July
Sunflower Bar (65 Union Street, Belfast) [map]
8.00pm

Social Media Activism

There’s no simple answer to this quandry: does liking or sharing a status or image on Facebook do anything for the cause?

It’s nothing like Kony 2012, the viral campaign published in March 2012 by American charity ‘Invisible Children’, but how many people believe they are making a difference by sharing a video online?

Yesterday the Human Rights Campaign shared an image which quickly went viral on Facebook and Twitter:

The image, which is in support of marriage equality, has been spread through Facebook shares, and by people and organisations making it — and variations — their profile picture/avatar.

While it’s important to support causes, it is unlikely that such ‘online activism’ will scare governments into taking any action one way or another.

We at Belfast Skeptics support LGBT rights and marriage equality — we don’t need to change our avatar for a day to show that. We support many issues and causes. What about all the other important issues?

However, Solidarity is important. Knowing that friends, people you respect — even brands — support a cause is important.

While marriage equality is going to be rolled out in England, Wales and Scotland in the next few months, it is unlikely to happen in Northern Ireland any time soon. We’ll be trailing behind as usual. And so much more needs to be done than simply ‘armchair slacktivism.’

Raising awareness is great.
But let’s do more than simply change our avatar for a day.

Belfast Peace Gathering

Another protest in Belfast — how very Northern Irish. Whether it’s a protest against government cuts, fighting for abortion legislation, the killing of a police officer, we do love a good protest — but despite what some say, such gatherings are vital. Sure, creating hashtags on Twitter, shouting about how awful it is on Facebook, and creating memes are a large part of what it is to show disapproval, physically rallying in the centre of town shows that the people are serious about taking a stand. Armchair activism is vital for getting movements off the ground, but it needs to be taken to the streets.

Over 1,000 people gathered at the City Hall for an hour. Then at 11.55 whistles, horns and drums came out. Screams could be heard all around and the clapping was contagious. The atmosphere was electric. There was no tension in the air. Everyone was happy to be out. If anything, it made us simply feel better about the people who live here. As one placard said: “It’s a piece of land, and we all have to live on it.”

This was a non-political event. Organised on the ground by a very small number of individuals, which rapidly spread over the course of just a few days, this is the way in which our society will continue to move forward. This is about more than a flag, this is about informing the small, violent, minorities that we do not want violence. The very fact that many did not turn up today due to fears for their (and their childrens’) safety from a counter-protest, is a sad fact in itself. However, today was peaceful, and we can only hope that tomorrow will be peaceful.

The next step is ensuring that the positive attitude that everyone went away with can be shown in the party policies, that our government leaders can lead us away from violence. That the fight for peace can resonate in the minds of those who continue to disrupt the peace. Whatever the outcome, we came together and showed our support. For peace. For no violence.

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

Few Surprises in the NI Census Results — But What of the Atheists?

census 2011 logoThe 2011 Census data released today continued the growing trend of religiosity losing its majority populace throughout the UK. In Northern Ireland 16.86% of the population responded as having “no religion” or “did not state religion” whereas the response for “persons with no religion or religion not stated” in the 2001 census was 13.88% — this marks a small increase of an increase of 2.98%.

In England and Wales the number of people selecting “no religion” increased from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011.

The NI data reveals 48% of the resident population are either Protestant or brought up Protestant, a drop of 5% from the 2001 census.

However, the numbers show that 45% of the resident population are either Catholic or brought up Catholic, yet only 41% Catholic on census day.

  • 41% Catholic
  • 19% Presbyterian
  • 14% Church of Ireland
  • 5.8% other Christian or Christian-related denominations
  • 3% Methodist
  • 0.8% other religions and philosophies

Putting this with the figures for national identity — the first time this question has been asked — the overall statistics become much more interesting as well bringing a better understanding of the politics of people in Northern Ireland. Just 25% regard themselves as Irish only. This just shows there is not a definable correlation between religion and national identity/voting pattern.

According to the BBC

7% say they either belong to another religion or none

And the UTV reported this as

Just over 5% of people in Northern Ireland said they do not belong to any religion

Each news outlet is taking different data to be the correct response.
The BBC are giving the number of 6.75% of those who “who did not state religion” for Question 17 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?”. While UTV gave the number of those 5.59% of those who answered “none” to Question 18 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in?”.

Neither of these take into consideration the 10.11% of people who answered “No Religion” under the same Question 17.

This inaccuracy of the data reporting is extremely important, and it’s a shame to see the media portray the numbers incorrectly. The numbers of those who have no religion are

Jill Farquhar states why this is important:

As politicians use the census statistics to form policy and allocate resources this type of misrepresentation is extremely significant. The use of data conflating religion with religious background produces an image of Northern Ireland which is significantly more religious and significantly less diverse than is actually the case. This reinforces the Catholic/Protestant binary and justifies the continued intrusion of religion into lawmaking in NI (see the restrictive abortion legislation for example).

More broadly, the conflation of ‘religion’ with ‘religious background’ perpetuates the idea that the religion of our parents defines our own religious identity and produces religion as something essential to the individual rather than something which can be changed, challenged and/or rejected.

For the purposes of the NI census, it seems, atheists really are ‘catholic atheists’ or ‘protestant atheists’.

Based on the data in English and Wales, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has calculated that if the change in Christianity shown between 2001 and 2011 continues, then Christians would be recorded as being in the minority from September 2018.

This is highly significant data as we watch rationality become the norm, yet there are still continued efforts to be done in education, particularly in Northern Ireland, which has seen a rise in Atheism and secularism, and indeed a growing progressive liberal community, however this has been much smaller than elsewhere in the UK.

Below is the data comparing the 2011 census data with that from 2001:

#Flegmovies

Every once in a while a trend kicks off on Twitter which flies in the face of the serious issue taking place elsewhere. This humour is a particularly passive method of showing the disdain of the majority for the violence and unruly behaviour from the minority.

Sure, it’s a throwaway “hashtag” game on Twitter, though the very fact that it spread so quickly shows the support it garnered by local people. Many of the offerings from Twitter users were accurate displays of disparagement and frustration, through the clever replacement of words and choosing of titles. Here are some of the best examples:

Well Done Belfast — No Surrender

After the vote on Monday in the City Council to remove the Union Flag as a permanent fixture on the City Hall, instead having it fly on certain days in the year, riots broke out at the city hall, and since then across Belfast by loyalist thugs.

On the upside, the “No Surrender Woman” meme to come out of it has brought much needed laughter in the face of the terrible destruction and violence taking place.

Some original footage

Separate Church and State Now! Public Meeting with Sanal Edamaruku and Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland are hosting a public meeting on furthering the idea of separation of church and state in Ireland. The meeting is to be held in the Malone Lodge on Tuesday 27th November with author and president of the Indian Rationalist Association and Rationalist International, Sanal Edamaruku, who is facing blasphemy charges in India, instigated by the Catholic Church, for exposing a crying Catholic statue as being caused by faulty plumbing and capillary action.

Other events are being held in Cork, Galway and Belfast (Dublin event took place on Saturday 24th), to promote separation of church and state in Ireland and internationally.

Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland will speak on the need for a secular constitution, laws, government, courts, education system and healthcare system, both in Ireland and internationally.

David Meade — Just Hanging Around?

David Meade pulled off an incredible stunt in Victoria Square Shopping Centre this morning. He wowed passers-by as he levitated 20metres/65ft off the ground. Or did he?

David says it’s an old religious hoax which originated 200 years ago in Egypt, created by fake faith healers in order to help them flog their wares. He wants people thinking and asking questions.
So what do you think is going on?

david meade levitation victoria square

david meade levitation victoria square

Belfast Vigil in Memory of Savita Halappanavar

Yesterday evening a candlelit vigil took place in Belfast where many people gathered to quietly demonstrate and remember the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year-old Indian woman who died in University Hospital Galway on 21st October this year.

Abortion is already a very hot topic in both North and South of Ireland, however, this recent case brings new light on the fact that the Irish government has refused to legislate on abortion for twenty years, since the X Case in 1992.

The 1992 Supreme Court judgement gives women a constitutional right to access abortion when their lives are in danger, including from the risk of suicide. However, the European Court of Human Rights has said there is a notable gap in the theory and practical implementation of the right to a lawful abortion in Ireland because of the lack of corresponding legislation. TheJournal.ie

Over the last two days vigils have been held in Galway, Dublin, Cork, Limerick and London. This is not an issue which is going to go away and something must be done to ensure that such an atrocity doesn’t occur again. That the innocent life of a women is not at risk because the government is under the thumb of the dogma of Catholic church.

Savita and her husband repeatedly informed doctors of the pain she was in and requested that an abortion be carried out due to the complications of the pregnancy. Doctors had found that she was miscarrying and that the fetus would not survive, however they were told that due to a “fetal heartbeat” they would not carry out an abortion as “this is a Catholic country”.

Because her cervix remained fully open for this time, Savita was in prolonged danger of infection, comparable to having an untreated open head wound. Savita developed septicaemia, and she died on Sunday 28 October, a week after entering hospital.

By then doctors had removed the foetus, but only after its heartbeat had stopped. If they had removed the foetus when it was clear that it could not survive, Savita’s cervix would have closed earlier and she would have been less likely to develop the infection.

There are few words but anger at this response. No good moral judgement was carried out in the decision to allow this woman to die. This is a human issue, and more pressure must be put on the government to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. In doing so, full detailed legislation must be laid out for cases of abortion to ensure that all medical professionals are educated on when medically induced abortions can be carried out — medicine must not be dictated by mythological doctrine.

Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland has provided full details this case and others surrounding.

(Photographs and video by Phil O’Kane)

Woman Dies from Miscarriage in Galway After Denied a Life-Saving Abortion

It is being reported that that a woman died on Sunday 28th of October in University College Hospitals, Galway, after it was found she was having a miscarriage, yet doctors refused to perform an abortion.

The woman, Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old dentist who was married for four years and hoping to start a family, was 17 weeks pregnant. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said that she had been in severe pain and on discovering she was miscarrying had requested a medical abortion. She was told by doctors, “this is a Catholic country”.

Galway Pro-Choice released a statement:

Savita was first admitted to the hospital on October 21st complaining of severe back pain. Her doctor initially told her that she would be fine, but she refused to go home. It became clear that her waters had broken, and she was having a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion). She was told that the foetus had no chance of survival, and it would all be over within a few hours.

However, her condition did not take its expected course, and the foetus remained inside her body. Although it was evident that it could not survive, a foetal heartbeat was detected. For this reason her repeated requests to remove the foetus were denied. By Tuesday it was clear that her condition was deteriorating. She had developed a fever, and collapsed when attempting to walk. The cervix had now been fully open for nearly 72 hours, creating a danger of infection comparable to an untreated open head wound. She developed septicaemia.

Despite this, the foetus was not removed until Wednesday afternoon, after the foetal heartbeat had stopped. Immediately after the procedure she was taken to the high dependency unit. Her condition never improved. She died at 1.09am on Sunday the 28th of October.

Had the foetus been removed when it became clear that it could not survive, her cervix would have been closed and her chance of infection dramatically reduced. Leaving a woman’s cervix open constitutes a clear risk to her life. What is unclear is how doctors are expected to act in this situation.

There are a number of takeaways from this horrible incident, and much needs to be done to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Now is the time for detailed abortion legislation to be introduced in Ireland. It is unacceptable that a doctor can refuse to offer life-saving treatment on the basis of religion.

Choice Ireland spokesperson, Stephanie Lord said:

“Today, some twenty years after the X case we find ourselves asking the same question again – if a woman is pregnant, her life in jeopardy, can she even establish whether or not she has a right to a termination here in Ireland? There is still a disturbing lack of clarity around this issue, decades after the tragic events surrounding the X case in 1992.”

How honest, now, is the term “Pro-Life” to describe those fighting to prevent a woman’s right to make a choice on her body. This case has simply gone against what many people like to state, that women do not die in this day and age from pregnancies. They do.

In a piece in the Irish Times, John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, County Mayo, states:

‘Choose Life!’ – this is the campaign call of the Catholic bishops of Ireland to raise public awareness that every human life is beautiful and that every human life is precious.

The Constitution recognises “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect” that right. The clear intention, therefore, is to protect and cherish equally the lives of both the mother and her unborn child.

In fact, Ireland, without abortion, is recognised as one of the safest countries in the world to be a pregnant mother. This is something about which we should be proud and is a tribute to the excellent care provided by hospital staff who treat both mother and unborn child with equal dignity and respect as people in their own right. Clearly, if the life of the mother is threatened, by illness or some other medical condition, the care provided by medical professionals will make sure that she receives all the medical care needed.

As stated by the European Centre for Law and Justice:

Even considering the broad European consensus on abortion, the Court considers that it doesn’t limit the sovereign right of Ireland to prohibit abortion, because of “the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake” (§ 233)

Apart from those positive holdings affirming that there is no right to abortion, the ECLJ must strongly reject the erroneous assumption of the ECHR of the existing of a “lawful abortion in Ireland in accordance with Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution” Article 40.3.3, adopted by a referendum held in 1983, reads as follows and doesn’t recognize any right to abortion : “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” The Court’s interpretation of article 40.3.3, may lead to a forced recognition of a right to abortion.

Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Savita Halappanavar.