ANN CAHILL: Think-in on social exclusion – with only 10% women

FREEMASONS from Grand Lodges and Grand Orients of eight countries came together for what was described as “an unique gathering in the world” by EU president Herman Van Rompuy.

The 13 groups joined with the Irish atheist organisation and societies of humanists, secularism and free thought for a think-in on poverty and social exclusion. This was the brother gathering to that of a few months ago when the churches gathered for a similar consultation with the EU.

Neither, despite Mr Van Rompuy’s description, was unique in that both had male majorities with about 10% female participation.

Yes, the topic was social exclusion. One could laugh at it were it not so tragic.

One of the Grand Masters of a lodge present was so cocksure of himself, he said the Commission should not have invited a Grand Master had they not wanted a man. The fact of the matter is that the primary requirement to join the freemasons is to be a man – women according to their rules “would violate the ancient landmarks”. Any that do admit women are considered “irregular”. Two of the three women present were from a female French lodge – not mainstream to say the least.

All these organisations were grouped under the title, “Philosophical and non-confessional organisations”, and were invited to meet the presidents of the Parliament, Council and Commission to fulfil an article in the Lisbon Treaty. Similar meetings with the religious leaders have been going on for years, despite their active discrimination against women and that discrimination on grounds of gender is barred by the EU Convention of Human Rights.

But rather than deciding to urge these organisations to reform themselves in the Lisbon Treaty, it was agreed to extend the meetings to non-religious groups. Though how the Freemasons can be classed as such must be a question, given that their members must profess a “belief in a supreme being”.

The church representatives have regular individual meetings with the Commission as well as their annual get together – much the same as lobbyists and representatives of business and other interests have.

The difference is that presumably the churches are lobbying on ethical issues to do with society. But they are not democratically accountable and so they and the non-confessional groups should surely make their contributions at a forum open to the public where they can be questioned.

Mr Van Rompuy and the Grand Masters are obviously comfortable and very pleased to be part of the ruling half of the human race. They don’t even seem to think that there might be something wrong in discussing poverty and social exclusion while those who carry much of the burden of poverty and social exclusion are not just at the meeting, but are structurally excluded.

The two people from the Atheist Ireland organisation, the writer, Michael Nugent, and Gráinne Spingies, who attended the meeting said their membership in Ireland is increasing.

The main driver is not people’s disgust at the Catholic Church’s handling of child abuse and other issues, but about the Government’s education bill. People want the right to have a secular education for their children, they said.

Despite decades of Christian education, tolerance can be a rarity in some parts of Ireland they find, with children being ostracised for having different beliefs from the majority, Michael Nugent says. Putting such issues under a spotlight at a public forum might be a real contribution to combating poverty and social exclusion.


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