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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019
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Early morning DART passengers none too plussed about blasphemy change

Minister Charlie Flanagan and his Fine Gael colleagues were up early in the morning to stake out Tara St.

0405 Blasphemy Referendums Campaign_90556607 Charlie Flanagan out canvassing this morning. Source: Leah Farrell

ANYONE INTERESTED IN a quick conversation about blasphemy?

Anyone at all? 

Minister Charlie Flanagan (obviously) didn’t try and canvass commuters with anything resembling the above line as he staked out Tara Street Station this morning alongside Fine Gael colleagues. 

Engaging voters on any issue first thing in the morning can be a tall order. Doubly so if it’s about an abstract issue of little real relevance to people’s everyday lives. 

“Blasphemy Referendum – Yes on the 26th,” the Justice Minister succinctly repeated again and again as successive DARTs from Howth, Malahide, Bray and Greystones landed in the central Dublin station, disgorging hundreds of workers at a time. 

The Blasphemy vote, in case you hadn’t heard, happens on the same day as the Áras election – tomorrow week. 

As the Stephen Fry vs. God He Doesn’t Believe In Anyway incident underscored, however, there’s very little chance indeed of anyone being hauled before the nation’s courts for blasphemous utterances.

As a result the debate on the referendum has been, at best, muted so far. It’s been overshadowed by a presidential election campaign that itself hasn’t exactly ignited the public’s imagination. 

One thing we did learn from the polls this week, though, is that people – almost seven out of ten of them – seem to like the current President. 

Just as well, then, that the leaflets being handed out by Flanagan this morning were emblazoned with a large ‘Michael D Higgins’, backed up by four bullet points encouraging a vote for the former Labour TD.

A smaller section at the back of the A5 flyer was dedicated to the blasphemy vote.

“We believe that freedom of belief and expression are important values in a democratic society,” the leaflet proclaimed, adding: 

Criminalising blasphemy is not consistent with these values.

0459 Blasphemy Referendums Campaign_90556606 Source: Leah Farrell

People rushing to work after grabbing a hand-out from the minister weren’t particularly delighted to then be accosted by reporters asking their views on the blasphemy question (apologies if you happened to encounter TheJournal.ie at Tara St earlier – we were doing a fair share of the accosting). 

A few said they were aware of the referendum, one said they weren’t sure what was being asked – while another man said he’d read up on the issues and he’d decided to vote Yes on Friday week. 

Asked if politicians were doing enough to make the public aware, Flanagan insisted to reporters there were still eight days to go and that Fine Gael was “actively engaged in informing the people of the question at hand”.

On the design of the leaflet, he maintained it made sense. “For ease of convenience we have one leaflet in Fine Gael” covering both issues.

Ministerial bypass 

Some commuters, as Flanagan canvassed alongside Senator Michelle Mulherin and t-shirt-wearing Young Fine Gael volunteers, opted to take detours through the station’s busy Spar shop rather than have to run the gauntlet of a surprise blasphemy canvass. 

Others were happy to take a leaflet – but many kept their headphones in and their heads down as they hurried through the throng.

Before too long, an Irish Rail worker emerged to tell the minister and his entourage he’d have to move off the station’s property. 

“We had Leo Varadkar here a few months ago – we even said the same to him,” he offered, almost apologetically. 

As reporters and camera crews gathered for Flanagan’s doorstep interview, yet another staff member emerged – again telling everyone they’d have to move off so commuters could get by.

At the time, the minister happened to be espousing the benefits of freedom of belief and freedom of expression to the assembled media. 

The Irish Rail man didn’t push things, and seemed content enough to let the event play out.

Flanagan, sticking very much to his talking points, gave a few more soundbites about freedom of expression. Then we all quietly slunk away from the sacred space of the Tara Street entrance. 

You can read our explainer on the blasphemy referendum here, and here’s a link to the Referendum Commission website

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