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

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)

Caleb Foundation No-Show at NI Humanist Event

Yesterday evening I went to the Humanists Association of Northern Ireland’s regular monthly meeting expecting to hear from their arranged speaker David mcConaghie, Press Officer of the Caleb Foundation: the group behind the inclusion of the creationist display at the Giant’s Causeway. I was joined by Colin and Peter of the Facebook campaign to remove the display, all psyched and rehearsed in our lines of debate.

Sadly, Iain Deboys, organisation Chair, informed us that McConaghie and the foundation’s chairman, Wallace Thompson, would not be attending. What followed was frustration and annoyance, whilst not being altogether surprised that they are so unwilling to talk to anyone who may oppose their views it is an utterly ridiculous and cowardly thing to back out of an event which was planned weeks ago, showing that they are unable to defend themselves in a public sphere.

We were informed that all correspondence between the Humanist Ass. and Caleb was carried out very carefully and Ian remarked that at times they even appeared jovial during telephone calls; at one point Thompson said, “Some people think we’re nuts, maybe they’re right.” A certain level of humour employed perhaps in an attempt to endear us to them. They were ensured that questions would not be pre-approved, yet all efforts would be made to see that the event is peaceful and carried out in a formal manner.

However, Iain then went and asked if a group member, John Pearson, who is also a member of Atheist Ireland, had requested to video record the event the response from Caleb was that they would have to check with “the Men”. While “the Men” weren’t that keen in the first place, thinking perhaps they’d be ambushed, and rather than simply say “no” to all recording, it was decided by “the Men” that they would not attend. McDonaghie and Thompson said yesterday that “their hands were tied.” That they personally were happy enough but “the Men weren’t”.

It was disappointing to see that such a public body is so unwilling to speak publicly about the actions which they take. Actions which affect so many people in different ways. If they are unable to defend themselves or have rational, evidence-based reasons for carrying out the actions that they have, then perhaps they should not hold the positions that they do and continue to preach the nonsense that they do.

Perhaps next time we’ll ask the women.

Caleb Press Officer to Speak at NI Humanists Event — 13th September

Tomorrow, Thursday 13th September, David McConaghie, Press Officer of the Caleb Foundation is to speak at the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland event on the ‘Origins of the Giant’s Causeway’. This will certainly be an interesting evening and attendance is likely to be high.

David McConaghie said in a piece in the Newsletter in July:

The inclusion in the new centre of an acknowledgement of an alternative explanation of its origins, and of the continuing debate about it, is an encouraging step. We’ve had collective hysteria from those who would conceal evidence, suppress facts, withhold data, obstruct enquiry and stifle debate – but that was expected.

Where once the only view on display was of an old earth, there is now reference to another perspective. The availability of more information will promote healthy, informed debate – surely that is a good thing.

While it is good to see the Caleb Foundation encourage public and open debate about what they do and what they want, it is unfortunate that it has come to this despite requests and promises from the National Trust regarding the inclusion of the “alternative” view at the Giant’s Causeway exhibition, an official response has yet to be received following their supposed review. While McConaghie says “surely [the debate] is a good thing”, our answer is: No. It is not a good thing. There is no debate.

This talk, and the Q&A (unless they forbid questioning their ideas) will likely be “interesting” and no doubt full of the same nonsense about God, taking certain parts of the Old Testament literally and failing to understand scientific research in an area which is no longer considered up for debate within the scientific community.

We will be in attendance on the evening.

What: David McConaghie, Caleb Foundation Press Officer — ‘Origins of the Giant’s Causeway’
Where: Malone Lodge, 60 Eglantine Avenue, Belfast
When: 8pm

A Secular Agenda for Northern Irish Politics

Matt Johnston has some brilliant ideas which should be taken on board by those in Northern Ireland who wish to better the our future; political parties, voters, and potentially new political parties. Matt has created a list of terms — “a political ‘purity test’” — which can be applied to a local manifesto. The bottom line is that this is about a secular agenda with aims to improve the life of people and economy in Northern Ireland.

They are all excellent and valid points which need to be reverberated throughout our government and should be fought for as a society.

  • Do they support raising the bar for education in schools (especially with regards to computing education)?
  • What is their stance on equal marriage?
    Why do you want to stop people from getting married except under your definitions?
  • Do they support total transparency on finances?
  • What is their policy on parades and illegal organisations? If you support flying flags of illegal organisations (involved in murder) then you’re part of the problem. If you support parades going through anywhere but city centres, then you’re part of the problem. Keep parades the hell away from where people live.
  • What’s your policy on integration in schools? If it’s any less than 100%, then you’re just propagating the issues we’ve been suffering with for my entire lifetime. Religious instruction in state-funded schools is not appropriate. Religion is a personal experience. Keep it in your family and your congregation.
  • Do they support the teaching of Creationism in schools? This is a hot topic considering that government is trying to increase interest in STEM subjects and including a mythology alongside science is counterproductive. Creationism is a great story for goatherds two millennia ago. Let’s keep it for Sundays and get it out of our schools.
  • Are they prepared to apply the law to all without regard for historical or cultural sensitivity? This means no by-ball for their mates in the lodge (Orange or Hibernian). This means no unofficial vigilantes. This means more than simple “condemnation” of the violence.
  • Do they support the ridiculous opening hours restrictions placed on shops on Sundays? And not to mention the restrictions on pubs and nightclubs. We’re not a “party region”, we’re barely a tourist friendly region. Give tourists something to do on a Sunday morning other than listen to dreary bells.

These are all extremely valid and important, and, for the most part, they contribute massively to the reason Northern Ireland continues to remain years behind everywhere else on a number of issues. This list makes sense. And these issues need to be dealt with.

Read Matt’s post here.

World Suicide Prevention Day 2012

Today is the 10th anniversary of World Suicide Prevention Day: the purpose of which is to promote awareness, commitment and action in preventing suicide. This year’s theme is “Suicide Prevention across the Globe: Strengthening Protective Factors and Instilling Hope”.

Suicide is a very personal issue, and many of us know someone who has thought about it, or indeed gone through with it. According to recent statistics, Health Minister Edwin Poots said in June 2012 it is “almost six times the rate of death due to road traffic accidents”. With a record 313 suicides registered last year.

The rise in these figures has been linked to a number of factors, including unemployment and the current economic climate.

Suicide rates are twice as high in deprived areas of Northern Ireland – for young men, it’s often said to be down to the over-use of alcohol and drugs.

According to Psychology Today the six reasons for attempted suicide are:

  1. Depression
  2. Psychosis
  3. Impulsive
  4. Crying out for help
  5. A philosophical desire to die
  6. They’ve made a mistake

A recet study by Queens University Belfast found that the highest rate of suicide in Northern Ireland is among men aged 35-44, also known as “Troubles Children”. Speaking about the study Professor Tomlinson, from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work said:

“The increase in suicide rates can be attributed to a complex range of social and psychological factors.
These include the growth in social isolation, poor mental health arising from the experience of conflict, and the greater political stability of the past decade.
The transition to peace means that cultures of externalised aggression are no longer socially approved or politically acceptable.”

In June 2012 Edwin Poots launched the ‘Protect Life Strategy and Action Plan‘.

Worldwide statistics:

  • Data from The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that 1 million people die every year of suicide worldwide
  • There is one death by suicide every 40 seconds
  • There are more people lost to suicide than to homicide and war combined
  • Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death worldwide among 15-19 year olds
  • More than 100,000 adolescents die by suicide each year worldwide
  • Highest rates of suicide are among those age 75 and older
  • Up to 90% of people who take their own life have a psychiatric disorder

How to support World Suicide Prevention Day 2012: