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Blasphemy vote 'a significant milestone for Ireland becoming a more modern society'

A final result on the blasphemy referendum may not be announced until tomorrow.

Blasphemy ballot papers being separated from Presidential votes earlier today.
Blasphemy ballot papers being separated from Presidential votes earlier today.
Image: Sam Boal

THE DECISION TO remove blasphemy as a criminal offence from Ireland’s constitution is being broadly welcomed today. 

As the counting of votes in the Presidential election takes precedence over the referendum, it’s likely to be several hours, if not tomorrow, before an official result on the blasphemy is announced. However RTÉ’s exit poll, puts the yes vote on blasphemy at 70%. 

Amnesty International Ireland said the vote is “significant for freedom of expression in Ireland and around the world”.  

The body’s Colm O’Gorman said it’s “another step towards a human rights compliant Constitution”.

Following the massive support for the constitutional referendums on marriage equality and the ban on abortion, O’Gorman said voters placed freedom at the forefront of this weekend’s vote:

People in Ireland have shown yet again that they value human rights and freedoms
Blasphemy laws like Ireland’s violate freedom of expression. At a time when this freedom is under attack around the world, this referendum matters even more. Now, States like Pakistan can no longer justify their own severe anti-blasphemy laws by pointing to Ireland’s Constitution.

The Humanist Association of Ireland is also welcoming the decision, ceo Noeleen Hartigan said it’s “another significant milestone for Ireland in becoming a modern, secular and more compassionate society”.

However, there are still several significant hurdles to be overcome before the non-religious can fully participate in Irish society without discrimination.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has also welcomed the vote,  “as an important step for free speech and the modernisation of our democracy”. 

Executive Director  Liam Herrick, called on the government to now move to address Ireland’s lack of hate crime legislation:

Hate crime is something which is entirely different to blasphemy as it is directed towards individuals or groups, rather than ideas or institutions. There is no legislation in place to deal with hate crime in Ireland at the moment.

The news has been welcomed across the globe, with many outlets speaking to the link between the decision and an investigation into whether or not comedian Stephen Fry broke the blasphemy law when he appeared on RTÉ in recent years. 

If RTÉ’s exit poll proves accurate, as expected, the crime of blasphemy will be removed from the constitution. The law had been enacted under an update to Ireland’s defamation laws in 2009. 

At present, the Constitution says that publishing or saying something blasphemous is an offence punishable under law. This weekend’s decision will mean the removal of that law from our constitution. 

Once Michael D Higgins is officially re-elected as President, counting in the Blasphemy referendum will begin. However individual returning officers (the people who head up the count centres in each constituency) may decide to send home staff for the night and delay the count until tomorrow morning.  

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