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Deputy Shortall will be bringing forward a Bill proposing a referendum to remove the requirement to make religious oaths from the Constitution

The full-throated defence by the State of mandatory religious oaths in the Constitution is both surprising and deeply disappointing, according to Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall.

Deputy Shortall was an applicant in proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights which sought to have the constitutional requirement to swear a religious oath, if elected President or appointed to the Council of State, declared a breach of Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (the right to political and religious freedom).

Articles 12.8 and 31.4 of the Constitution mandate that the President, and members of the Council of State, swear a declaration to “almighty god” when taking office.

Today, the Court dismissed the case on admissibility grounds, ruling that Deputy Shortall, and other applicants, had failed to demonstrate they were victims of the law – primarily, as they had not demonstrated they were directly impacted by the requirement to take the oath.

Deputy Shortall said:

“In a modern republic, it is anathema that those elected to one of the highest political offices in the land, that of President, are required to swear an oath to “almighty God”.

“The inclusion of this oath in the constitution has previously been criticised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as far back as 1993, while a Constitutional Review Group, established in 1995 by the then government, also recommended the relevant clauses be amended to include the option of a non-religious affirmation in place of the oath.

“For nearly 30 years, it has been recognised, both in this country and by international human rights organisations, that the oaths are incompatible with freedom of conscience.

“Despite this, at the ECHR, the government instructed its lawyers to give a full-throated defence of these clauses in the Constitution. The government even argued that the clauses were “necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

“It beggars belief that the government would attempt to argue that mandatory and nakedly religious oaths are somehow “conducive to public order in a democratic society”.

“The government had argued that the State had a wide discretion when it came to  questions concerning the State and religion and argued the clauses were not religious per se, but manifestations of the political and cultural heritage of the country.

“The Court appeared to have little sympathy for this argument, stating that “tradition cannot relieve [the State] of its obligation to respect the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Convention and its Protocols”.

“Given the ECHR has ruled the case was essentially inadmissible as neither I, nor any of the other applicants had demonstrated we were personally victimised by the requirement to swear an oath, I am now going to attempt to address this issue in another way.

“I will be bringing forward a Bill proposing a referendum to amend the Constitution, to remove the requirement to make a religious oath when elected President or appointed to the Council of State.”

18 November, 2021


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