Militant Catholic Breda O’Brien put through the wringer

The call by former president Mary McAleese for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on same sex marriage is a devastating blow for the No side and, in particular, for militant Catholic and Iona Institute patron Breda O’Brien.

Newstalk’s Chris Donoghue did an excellent job of putting O’Brien through the wringer on the whole issue (Breakfast Show, part 3).

Here’s O’Brien’s response to the McAleese comments followed by my comments.

Can I just make an important point in relation to Mary McAleese. People have the right to vote, that’s a very fundamental human right and they have a right to do that in freedom and in respect for their views.

This is patronising waffle. Everybody knows they have a right to vote and have that right respected.

Mary McAleese has departed from the precedent set by Mary Robinson and by president Hillary by intervening directly in matters of Irish policy. I presume she has a very good reason for doing so.

The suggestion here is that, somehow, former presidents do not have a right to express an opinion, that they should not interfere in any way in matters of ‘Irish policy’ – whatever that is.

As a private citizen expressing an opinion Mary McAleese is under no obligation whatsoever to give a reason or justification for her views, least of all, to a leading member of a militant Catholic organisation like the Iona Institute.

Religious discrimination enshrined in Irish law

Letter in today’s Irish Times

School admissions and religion


The School Admission Bill 2015 says that a school cannot discriminate against student admission based on their religion or their “having no faith”.

However it then gives an exemption: “a school . . . does not discriminate where it admits a person of a particular religious denomination in preference to others or where it refuses to admit a person who is not of that denomination, where it is proved that refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school”.

So discrimination based on the “ethos”, ie controlling religion for 98 per cent of the primary schools, is not discrimination based on religion, according to the Bill.

It seems that words can mean whatever the Government wants them to mean, after all. But ask any parent or child sent to the back of the line because they don’t meet the religious “ethos” of the school and they will tell you that it looks like discrimination, feels like discrimination and smells like discrimination – based on religion.

Yours, etc,
Andrew Doyle
Co Cork.

Is the Iona Institute guilty of intellectually abusing schoolchildren?

Last April, religious militant and director of the Iona Institute David Quinn, delivered a lecture to fifth and sixth year students falsely informing them that the origin of the universe had nothing to do with science but was strictly a matter for religion/philosophy (See full article here).

There is an abundance of scientific evidence relating to the origin of the universe. Scientific discoveries such as background radiation, inflation and the recently discovered gravitational waves are all scientific facts supporting the idea that the origin of the universe is scientific.

In stark contrast, Mr. Quinn’s claim that the origin of the universe is a philosophical and religious one has no basis in fact whatsoever.

Despite centuries of philosophical and religious debate on the question of the origin of the universe not a single fact has been produced to confirm the myriad of speculative opinions emanating from that quarter.

What is really disturbing about this incident is the fact that Mr. Quinn and the Iona Institute appear to have unrestricted access to propagate what is effectively, religious propaganda to innocent students.

It is obvious from reading Mr. Quinn’s article that his lecture had nothing to do with genuine education, that it was not designed to inform students about the pros and cons in the debate between science and religion.

In addition to the lie concerning the origin of the universe Mr. Quinn’s lecture seems to have been nothing more than a vicious attack on New Atheism and in particular on Richard Dawkins.

Mr. Quinn regularly makes such attacks across various media outlets and, while rationally obnoxious, he is entitled to hold and express those views.

But what is not acceptable and what is deeply disturbing, is the apparent freedom extended to the Iona Institute to effectively intellectually abuse innocent schoolchildren.

I made a formal complaint on the matter to the Department of Education.

The response, while entirely predictable, was nevertheless shocking.

Effectively, the Department said – Nothing to do with us, it’s the responsibility of the boards of management and the patron of each school (See below for my formal complaint, reply from Dept. of Education and my response).

This is the same irresponsible response by the Dept/Government as that taken in the Louise O’Keeffe scandal.

Ms. O’Keeffe, who had been sexually abused by a teacher as a schoolgirl in the 1970s, lost her case for justice in the Irish High and Supreme Courts but finally found justice when the decision of the Irish courts was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.

Although disgusting in the extreme it seems that this ‘legal arrangement’ is proving very useful to politicians and civil servants as a means of abdicating any responsibility whatsoever towards protecting children from abuse whether physical, sexual or intellectual.

Copy to:
Department of Education
Iona Institute
All political parties

Formal complaint:

10 April 2014

For attention of Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn

This is a formal complaint regarding a lecture delivered by the director of the Iona Institute David Quinn to a group of fifth and sixth year students earlier this month.

Mr. Quinn wrote about his lecture in an article in the Irish Catholic newspaper of 3 April last. The title of the article, which is provided in full below, is:

The atheist’s act of faith

The question of the origin of the universe isn’t a scientific one at all, but a philosophical and religious one.

My complaint is as follows:

Mr. Quinn’s lecture is based entirely on a falsehood; namely that the origin of the universe is not a scientific one at all but rather a philosophical and religious one.

There is an abundance of scientific evidence relating to the origin of the universe. Scientific discoveries such as background radiation, inflation and the recently discovered gravitational waves are all factual events that give the lie to Mr. Quinn’s claim that the question of the origin of the universe is not scientific.

Furthermore, Mr. Quinn’s claim that the question of the origin of the universe is a philosophical and religious one has no basis in fact whatsoever.

Despite centuries of philosophical and religious debate on the question of the origin of the universe not a single fact has been produced to confirm the myriad of speculative opinions emanating from that quarter.

In effect, Mr. Quinn was permitted to encourage students to ignore established scientific facts regarding the origin of the universe and instead accept that his Christian god created the universe.

It is unacceptable and indeed disturbing that somebody with a very strong religious bias like Mr. Quinn would be granted apparent unrestricted access to students to promote a religious viewpoint based on a falsehood.

It is unacceptable and indeed disturbing that any outside influence would be permitted apparent unrestricted access to students to promote a particular view without the long established safeguards of independent/objective supervision and the right to hear an opposing argument.

According to legislation the Board of Management of schools are accountable to the patron and to the Minister. This complaint is addressed to the Minister in this context.

Yours sincerely
Anthony Sheridan

Response from Department of Education:

Dear Mr Sheridan

I refer to your letter addressed to the Minister for Education and Skills.

While this Department sets out the constitution of Boards of Management and rules of procedure it is not directly involved in the management of schools. Under the provisions of the Education Act, 1998, the Board of Management is the body charged with the direct governance of a school. The schools Board of Management is accountable to the school Patron.

Accordingly, whereas the Department provides funding and policy direction for schools, the Department does not have the power to instruct schools to follow a particular course of direction with regard to individual complaint cases.

Religious Education is one of 33 Leaving Certificate subjects available to schools. The selection of text books and classroom resources to support the implementation of the curriculum is made by schools, rather than by the Department of Education and Skills or the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

The Office of the Ombudsman for Children may independently investigate complaints relating to the administrative actions of a school recognised by the Department of Education and Skills, provided the complainant has firstly and fully followed the school’s complaints procedures. The key criterion for any intervention by the Ombudsman for Children is that the administrative actions of a school has, or may have, adversely affected the child. The office can be contacted at: Ombudsman for Children’s Office, Millennium House, 52-56 Great Strand Street, Dublin 1; tel. 1800 20 20 40 or (01) 865 6800 or email

I hope the information that provided is of assistance to you.

Yours sincerely,

My response to the Department of Education

28 May 2014

To Whom It May Concern:

Your response to my formal complaint concerning a lecture delivered to fifth and six-year students by the director of the Iona Institute David Quinn is a disgrace for the following reasons.

One: Apart from issuing meaningless bureaucratic waffle, the decision to do nothing will almost certainly result in some degree of damage to innocent children.

After decades of horrific child abuse the very least we could expect of officialdom is to make some enquiries into the matter. Given the history of child abuse in Ireland it is highly likely that the Iona Institute is not the only organisation that enjoys unrestricted access to preach religious and other damaging propaganda to children.

Two: Your indifferent response is a further disturbing reflection of how unprofessional civil servants have become. Scandal after scandal, on an almost weekly basis, gives witness to this decay of professionalism right across all departments.

Three: Your response is an insult to my intelligence. It is an obvious fact that the Department of Education is intimately involved in every aspect of education across all levels. It is also a fact that if you wished, you could easily carry out an investigation into this matter.

That you chose not to thus placing children in potential danger is a disgrace on you and your profession.

Yours etc.,
Anthony Sheridan

Professor O’Neill: Ambivalent on the Science v Religion debate?

Luke O’Neill, professor of biochemistry at TCD, was interviewed recently on the Pat Kenny Show.(2 July, part three: 6 min).

The question under discussion was:

What is religion and where did it come from? How and why did it evolve? Is there a scientific explanation or is science itself just another religion?

I am responding to the interview because professor O’Neill, like many scientists, is far too ambivalent when it comes to the conflict between science and religion.

My general impression of such scientists is that they are shy about upsetting believers and also exhibit a lack of confidence (perhaps even shame) in the achievements and power of science.

Professor O’Neill is a non-believer and is clearly on the side of science but his views/explanations/answers are far too soft on religion.

O’Neill’s attitude during the discussion strongly indicated that science is, in many ways, similar to religion. This is simply not the case and is, in my opinion, very destructive to the interests of science.

Before getting into analysis it will be useful to provide exact definitions of the subject matter under discussion.

Religion: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods (Oxford English Dictionary).

Science: The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment (Oxford English Dictionary).

Pat Kenny: Can religion be explained in biological terms?

Professor O’Neill: All religions can be explained by science, they evolved. But remember, we’re not trying to explain god here, that’s a completely different issue entirely.

Analysis: Professor O’Neill is correct to say that the phenomenon of religious belief is evolutionary but he is wrong in claiming that the existence/explanation of god/s is a separate matter entirely.

This is akin to stating, for example, that the 1916 Rising is not relevant to Irish history.

The belief in a god/s lies at the core of religious belief. All religions act on and obey the diktats of their particular supernatural being. All religions defend their actions, no matter how horrific or benign on the rules and commands of their supernatural being.

‘Religions’ that do not believe in a supernatural being, for example, Buddhism, are not religions,they are philosophies of life.

Kenny: People of religious faith are more likely to behave better and have a healthier life.

O’Neill: Loads of studies show that if you’re religious it has a health advantage and people of religious faith are inclined to behave themselves more.

Analysis: I would be deeply skeptical of such studies and suspect that there are as many studies that show the opposite. My atheism has not damaged my health or my behaviour in any way whatsoever.

In fact, I strongly believe that I’m mentally, morally and physically better off as a result of not living my life under the negativity of superstition.

To suggest that hundreds of millions of non-believers live lives that are morally inferior to those who believe in god/s is ridiculous and insulting.

Indeed, it can be argued that non-believers are more moral because they are not subject to the superstitious/bizarre commands of their particular god/s.

Non-believers do not, for example, punish or even kill their fellow humans for believing in a rival god or printing a cartoon.

Kenny: Science is just another religion?

O’Neill: Science has many of the traits of religion, amazing as it may seem. Of course, science is not religion, it’s based on evidence but there are similarities between the two.

Analysis: This kind of ambivalence on the conflict between science and religion can be extremely damaging as it provides support for one of the favourite myths promoted by religious militants – that science is indeed just another religion.

There are no similarities whatsoever between science and religion. As the above definitions clearly demonstrate – science is about systematically studying the structure and behaviour of nature through observation and experiment – period.

Religion is belief in a supernatural power – period.

The clue can be found in the unbridgeable difference between the words ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’.

Kenny: In Christian faith, man is very special. Do scientists believe that humankind is special?

O’Neill: Some of my colleagues do. We all think evolution was about generating us and it’s probably not true, it’s random. Most scientists would probably say our brains are very special and it may not be the case.

Analysis: All scientists, I suspect, believe that humans and particularly the human brain is very special and they are absolutely right, from a purely scientific point of view.

But very few scientists believe that that specialness is due to a god. I seriously doubt O’Neill’s claim that all scientists believe evolution was about generating humans. With very few exceptions, scientists would agree with the professor’s claim that the evolution of humans is entirely random.

Kenny: Science casts out its heretics?

O’Neill: This is very true. All great religions hate heretics; they burn them at the stake. Equally, if you step out of line as a scientist…you will be pilloried. We don’t like heretics; that’s very similar.

Analysis: A heretic is a person who does not conform to established religious dogma. The sometimes’ negative reaction of the scientific community to a scientist who challenges established practices/principles is nothing more than a deep psychological reluctance to let go of long favoured conclusions. There is a big difference between the two.

Kenny: Science reveres its own saints?

O’Neill: Yes, Darwin is a saint for many of us. Newton, Einstein, so we do have our saints as well, absolutely.

Analysis: Now I know that professor O’Neill doesn’t really believe that scientists such as Darwin and Newton are saints in a religious sense, or, at least I hope he doesn’t.

But his casual association of great scientists with the religious concept of sainthood is grist to the mill for those who actively work to blur the obvious difference between science and religion.

It is not uncommon to hear religious people defend their superstitions with the argument that science too is a religion with its own saints and priesthood.

Kenny: Science makes up stories to explain its origins?

O’Neill: Every religion has its origin myths. We don’t know how the universe started. So scientists would say membranes formed and banged off each other and these are myths of origin as well. If you get evidence for them you’re in a better place but we set out to invent these myths to explain.

Analysis: Scientists do not set out to invent myths to explain anything. Scientists operate under strict rules as follows:

Ask a question.
Do background research.
Construct a hypothesis.
Test your hypothesis by doing experiments.
Analyse your data and draw a conclusion.
Communicate your results so that other scientists can carry out independent tests in an effort to falsify your conclusion.

Again, the careless and dangerous association of religious superstitions with science by scientists likes professor O’Neill does serious damage to the progress of science and greatly encourages the religious fanatics.

Kenny: Most of science is unfounded?

O’Neill: This is not quite true; science looks for evidence. There’s evidence for evolution but there’s some aspects of the theory for which there’s no evidence but we still sort of believe in them.

Analysis: It is true that some aspects of evolution are questionable but again, scientists don’t ‘sort of believe in them’. They form hypothesis and test them.

Kenny: Science requires faith?

O’Neill: It’s not quite true but if you ask an average scientist, do you believe in the Theory of Relativity, he will say, yes and won’t have a clue. He will take it on faith from another scientist who does know. But still, many of us say we believe in X and we don’t know the evidence. So again, there’s a similarity, sort of.

Analysis: If you ask the average motorist, do you believe in the science that makes your car engine work, he will say yes, but won’t have a clue. It is the evidence he can see every time he drives his car and not (blind) faith that convinces him that the science is true.

When a scientist accepts the Theory of Relativity on the word of another scientist he is not engaging in an act of faith. He is already aware that there is a vast amount of evidence available if he needs to check it out further. He’s also aware that the entire scientific community accepts the theory for so long as the evidence remains unfalsified.

Having religious faith in something (and that’s the subject under discussion here) means accepting something, usually a fantastic claim, with no evidence whatsoever. Scientists (science) do not operate on faith in any manner or form.

Kenny: So it’s a leap of faith?

O’Neill: Yes, it’s a leap of faith but hopefully it’s based on evidence. But there’s still a leap of faith there, of sorts.

Analysis: No, there’s no leap of (religious) faith involved in science whatsoever. It’s all based on hypothesis/evidence/experiment and testing.

An act of faith means believing in something without empirical evidence. Religion operates within this fantasy realm; science does not.

The following will illustrate the difference:

Professor O’Neill is standing 50 yards from the edge of the Grand Canyon. A priest asks him to run and jump over the edge assuring him that god will keep him safe. To agree to this requires a leap of faith.

I’m also standing 50 yards from the edge with a scientist who asks me to do the same. However, prior to the request the scientist showed me and rigorously tested a safety net located five feet beneath the edge. To agree to this does not require a leap of faith; it simple requires trust in science.

Professor O’Neill is a non-believer himself so I’m pretty sure he’s not promoting a religious agenda.

What he is doing, I believe, is unwittingly giving succour to those who actively work to discredit science in order to promote the interests of their particular god.

A recent example will illustrate the point:

Last April, religious militant and director of the Iona Institute David Quinn delivered a lecture to fifth and sixth year students falsely informing them that the origin of the universe had nothing to do with science but was strictly a matter for religion/philosophy (See full article here).

It is obvious from reading the article that the lecture had nothing to do with proper education; it was not designed to inform students about the pros and cons of science and religion. It was nothing more than a blatant piece of religious propaganda directed at New Atheism and in particular Richard Dawkins.

Unlike professor O’Neill’s casual attitude towards the conflict between science and religion, Quinn is deadly serious in his campaign to discredit science in support of his particular god and if that means intellectually abusing children, then so be it.

If professor O’Neill were a regular scientist working away in his laboratory, his views on the science v religion debate would be a private matter for himself.

But professor O’Neill is not a private citizen in the sense that he regularly guests on media outlets and therefore has an influence on a multitude of people.

Sadly, I believe his interview with Pay Kenny has done some damage to the cause of combating religious superstitions through the progress of science.

Copy to:
Professor O’Neill
David Quinn
Pat Kenny Show

Child holocaust: Denial of justice

The most important fact to keep constantly in mind as the latest chapter in the child holocaust horror unfolds is that nothing, absolutely nothing, is actually being done to face reality and provide justice for the victims.

Politicians, state officials, police and church representatives have all responded in a manner that is entirely predictable in a country whose governance is deeply dysfunctional at a moral, political and societal level.

Denial: The activities of the church have been known about for decades but were never acted upon, they were simply ignored.

It was only when the story went international, when outsiders, when non-Irish humans heard what was going on that there was any kind of response at all.

The official response to date has just one single aim – to bury the reality of what happened in a septic tank of denial.

Political: The Government has set up an inter-departmental group to decide how to proceed.

Note: the group has not been set up to act but merely to look into the matter. This group will achieve nothing apart from giving the impression of action, it is not meant to achieve anything.

Police: In a functional state the immediate police reaction would be to cordon off the area and treat it as a potential crime scene.

In dysfunctional Ireland a newspaper is in charge of the site while the police struggle to fit in their response with the wishes of their political masters.

The newspaper, The Irish Daily Mail, hired a private engineering company to carry out a subsurface radar examination of the site. A spokesperson for the newspaper said the results of its investigations would be made available to the police and government.

Question: What kind of country would see nothing unusual about allowing a newspaper to head up an investigation into any crime scene but in particular a crime scene that could involve crimes against humanity?

Meanwhile, a Garda spokesman said they would provide any information and assistance they could to the inter-departmental group set up to investigate the matter, we’re ‘feeding’ into the process the spokesman said.

So let’s recap: A newspaper is leading the investigation while government bureaucrats and the police ‘feed’ off each other’s ruminations on how to proceed.

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald stated clearly that any decisions (that may be taken) about criminal investigations are the responsibility of the police.

Translation: This horror has nothing to do with my government or me; it’s a matter for the police.

The police: It’s a matter for the bureaucrats.

The bureaucrats: We’re anonymous, unaccountable and are subject to strict secrecy laws.

The innocent until proved guilty principle does not apply under all laws in Ireland

The recent horrific murder of Saad al-Hilli and members of his family in France last week was discussed on the Marian Finucane Show this morning (Sunday).

The following exchange occurred when the discussion turned to the various rumours surrounding Saad al-Hilli’s background and how these rumours might affect the case

Myles Dungan: If Saad al-Hilli is completely innocent it’s always going to be very, difficult for him because people will always say there’s no smoke without fire.

Marian Finucane: Yes, it’s kind of guilty before trial isn’t it. I don’t think we would do that here, would we?

Myles Dungan: I don’t think we would, I hope we wouldn’t anyway.

Cleary, Finucane and Dungan are completely unaware of Section 99 of the Charities Act 2009 concerning the sale of Mass cards which specifically allows for the presumption of guilt before trial

This draconian law, which provides water tight protection for the Catholic Church’s extremely lucrative Mass card trade, carries a ten-year sentence and/or a €300,000 fine for anyone who sells a Mass card without the permission of a Catholic bishop.

Here’s the relevant section:

(2) In proceedings for an offence under this section it shall be presumed, until the contrary is proved on the balance of probabilities, that the sale of the Mass card to which the alleged offence relates was not done pursuant to an arrangement with a recognised person.

Copy to:
Marian Finucane
Myles Dungan

Catholic militant Mary Kenny exploits passing of Maeve Binchy

Irish Independent columnist and Catholic militant Mary Kenny just couldn’t resist exploiting the death of Maeve Binchy to push her Catholic agenda.

Unlike most Irish writers, according to Kenny, Binchy was not anti-clerical and anti-Catholic and didn’t include the cruel Christian Brother or the paedophile priest as ‘stock baddies’ in her books.

The underlying message here, of course, is that cruel Christian Brothers and paedophile priests are nothing more than the invention of fiction writers.

Kenny also suggests that Binchy was an upstanding Christian because she didn’t write explicit sex scenes.

The greatest insult of all from this so called friend was the claim that Binchy, a life long non-believer, was really a Catholic saint.

In this weeks Irish Catholic Kenny further insults Binchy by claiming

That she always held the deposit of faith and values transmitted to her by her parents.

Soul reaping Catholics like Kenny seem incapable of accepting that many victims of Catholic child (abuse) indoctrination eventually manage to escape from the clutches of its superstitions.

Child abuse by priests: A mystery that must just be believed?

There has long been a tradition within Catholicism of ‘explaining’ the unexplainable by calling it a mystery.

The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, the three divine persons in the one god is a mystery; you just have to believe it.

Now I see the Pope has described the Catholic Church child abuse holocaust as ‘a mystery’.

How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord’s body and confessed their sins in the sacrament of penance have offended in this way?

It remains a mystery.

Ok, I know they’re different kinds of mystery but can it be long before the ‘mystery’ of child abuse is incorporated into the official doctrine of the Catholic Church?

Response to Catholic militant, Mary Kenny

I wrote recently about the attempt by Catholic militant, Mary Kenny, to downgrade the seriousness of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

The following reponse was recently published in the Irish Catholic (My emphasis).

Dear Editor,

Mary Kenny in her article implied victims of clergy abuse were misusing the term ‘child sexual abuse’ when using this term for abuse other than rape.

From her position, she sees distinctions between molestation, rape and masturbation. She further sees distinctions between a six-year-old child who is raped and a 15 year-old fondled.

This is a gross oversimplification of sexual abuse.

Her position on the Brendan Smyth case has not changed from 1994 when she wrote in The Tablet:

I find it much more likely that the explanation of the Attorney General’s slowness to respond to the case of Brendan Smyth lay in the attitude that many of us would have; feeling of disbelief, denial, procrastination and wondering really if it was all as serious as it was cracked up to be.

She then makes comment on a case:

A mother on the World at One (Radio 4) told how Brendan Smyth had abuse her young daughter; he had taken the girl on his knee and fondled her inappropriately. As I had been led to imagine by reports in the Irish media that Smyth was a ravening rapist the crime had been less than it had been made out to be.

A child fondled can be more harmed than a child raped depending on that child’s previous experience, support or lack of support from those around her/him, development or emotional stability at the time of the act.

Duration of abuse e.g. several years fondling versus one act of rape may be more harmful.

After 20+g years supporting clergy sexual abuse survivors, I can testify that damage done is not only about the ‘act’ but about who the perpetrator is, the level of trust given/expected, the support they receive around them, and the response on reporting.

Kenny’s attempt to be some sort of child sexual abuse specialist in this area simply leads to confusion for those who know little about child sexual abuse, promotes rejection of victims who are not raped and pours scorn on those who claim (validly) to say they have been sexually abused even if not raped.

Yours etc.,
Dr. Margaret Kennedy,
Founder MACSAS,
Co. Wicklow