The inauguration of Michael D. Higgins as President of Ireland on Friday, November 11 2011, broke new ground by including a ‘reflection’ by a Humanist. Susie Kennedy, a representative of the Humanist Association of Ireland, spoke at the ceremony immediately after an inter-faith service.
The President-elect specifically requested a female Humanist celebrant to ‘broaden the range and diversity of the occasion’. In her statement at the presidential inauguration, Ms. Kennedy said:
“As an organisation representing a community who hold a humanistic worldview, the Humanist Association of Ireland is honoured and delighted to share in a happy event; the inauguration of our newly elected president, Michael D. Higgins.
“This presidency we believe will continue to promote inclusiveness, equality and diversity where people of all backgrounds with an ethical outlook can play an equal role in forming a fair society.
“We congratulate Michael D, wish him well and look forward to seeing his new, unique contribution being added to the accumulated accomplishments of those before him in this office”.
The Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI), a member organization of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), is the leading organization for non-religious people in Ireland. HAI Director Ann James said the Humanist Association “was absolutely delighted at the request, knowing it would bring a much wider community into the inauguration and celebration of a new President for Ireland. We know that many people who haven’t felt recognised or included before because they don’t happen to believe in a god can now share this occasion.”
Although a large majority of Irish citizens identify as Catholic, the non-religious outnumber every other religious identification in Ireland. This year’s Irish census is expected to show an increase in the category of ‘non-religious’ citizens to more than 250,000, out of a population of just over 4.5 million people.
Yet the non-religious citizens of Ireland still face discrimination, including a requirement for holders of public office to take a religious oath. So, despite the inclusion of Humanists in the presidential inauguration, non-religious citizens are still excluded from becoming president of Ireland.