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'The joke is actually on us': Dáil to decide on bill to abolish blasphemy as a crime

The Social Democrats have brought proposals, citing the recent example of the complaint made against Stephen Fry.

A complaint was made against comedian Stephen Fry for remarks in a 2015 interview with Gay Byrne.
A complaint was made against comedian Stephen Fry for remarks in a 2015 interview with Gay Byrne.
Image: RTÉ

THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS are bringing forward legislation designed to eradicate what they call the “archaic, obsolete and unnecessary” offence of blasphemy.

The party is introducing two Private Members’ Bills designed to safeguard freedom of speech and abolish blasphemy as a crime.

Co-leader Róisín Shortall said that the recent example of Stephen Fry facing possible criminal charges over comments made on an RTÉ show brought “embarrassing publicity” for the country.

In May, Minister for Health Simon Harris has called Ireland’s blasphemy law “silly” and said he’d like a referendum on the issue in the near future.

It comes after reports that gardaí are investigating comments made by TV personality Stephen Fry on RTÉ.

During an interview with Gay Byrne on The Meaning of Life in 2015, Fry said that if God exists, he’s “quite clearly an utter maniac, totally selfish” – among other comments – which prompted a complaint that this was illegal under the Defamation Act.

In the Dáil today, Shortall introduced the Thirty Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Blasphemy) Bill 2017. It would allow for a referendum on the issue. A referendum was promised by the government back in 2014, but a date has not yet been set aside for it.

The second bill would remove the offence of blasphemy from the Defamation Act 2009.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening about the complaint made against Fry, Shortall said: “Many of us could have been fooled into thinking it was an elaborate joke. It wasn’t.

And as long as we maintain an offence of blasphemy in our laws, the joke is actually on us.

She said that having blasphemy as an offence damaged Ireland’s international reputation, and it “yet one more example of where Church and State need to be fully separated”.

Wider support will be sought from other parties to back the bill, when the Dáil resumes in September.

Read: ‘Let the public decide’: What’s happening with all these referendums promised by government?

Read: New Zealand wants to scrap its blasphemy laws after Ireland’s Stephen Fry probe

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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