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Blasphemy! Convention to consider taking religious offence rule out of Constitution

The Constitutional Convention will spend the next two days debating whether or not the blasphemy provision should get the boot.

Blasphemers posed by models.
Blasphemers posed by models.
Image: Gossiping women via Shutterstock

THE GROUP TASKED WITH overhauling the Constitution for the modern era is to discuss whether the offence of blasphemy should be removed from Bunreacht na hÉireann.

At the seventh meeting which takes place today and tomorrow in Dublin, members of the Convention will hear from academics and legal experts on whether the controversial section should go.

The Irish Constitution explicitly states that blasphemy – speaking sacrilegiously about God –  should be a crime, although no-one has ever actually been prosecuted under it. Article 40.6.1.i states:

The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.

Blasphemy became a criminal offence in 2009 under defamation laws introduced by then-Minister Dermot Ahern, who argued that the Constitution requires that blasphemy be regarded as a criminal offence.

Convention chair Tom Arnold said that that a lot of people feel strongly about the provision, saying:

The strong level of public interest in the subject is evident from the high number of submissions that we received through the website and also from those members of the public that have raised it at our regional meetings.

Sinn Féin Senator Kathryn Reilly pointed to a UN report which said that blasphemy laws are not compatible with human rights.

“Blasphemy is not a valid offence in public law and should not be a criminal offence in a democratic society that respects diversity,” she said.

Separately, the Irish Council of Churches – which represents some Protestant and Independent churches – said that the current reference to blasphemy is ‘largely obsolete’ and could be seen as part of a range of measures used to ‘justify violence and oppression against minorities in other parts of the world’.

Members of the Convention – which is made up of representatives from the general public and politicians – will thrash out both sides of the argument before voting on what stance it will recommend to Government.

The Government will then have four months to hold an Oireachtas debate on the issue and decide whether or not to go ahead with a referendum if it is required.

The Convention will meet today and tomorrow in Malahide in Dublin to discuss the issue. It will be the seventh meeting of the group since it was convened.

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