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It's official: We'll have a referendum to remove blasphemy from the Constitution

The last known conviction for blasphemy was in 1855.

Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

IRISH VOTERS WILL have be asked to vote on whether to remove the crime of blasphemy from the Constitution, it was announced this morning.

Junior Minister Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin told the Dáil:

The Government accepts the main recommendation of the [Constitutional Convention], which is that a referendum should be held on removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution.

Article 40 of the Irish Constitution states that:

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

Furthermore, Section 36 of the 2009 Defamation Act outlines a fine of up to €25,000 for anyone convicted of the offence.

The law defines blasphemy as publishing or saying something “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matter held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.”

There is an exception where the accused can prove literary, artistic or academic merit in what they said.

In his speech today, however, Ó’Ríordáin pointed out that nobody has actually been prosecuted under the Defamation Act, and that the last known conviction for blasphemy in Ireland was in 1855.

The Labour TD said it hadn’t been decided yet whether the constitutional amendment would simply remove the crime of blasphemy, or replace it with a ban on incitement to religious hatred.

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It’s equally unclear whether the ban on blasphemy (as found in the Defamation Act) would remain law, or be replaced by an offence of incitement to religious hatred.

Ó’Ríordáin noted in his speech that Ireland already has a ban on incitement to hatred, including on religious grounds.

No provisional date was given for the referendum, and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will be in charge of consultations leading up to a bill to be put before the Oireachtas.

Read: The Irish Council of Churches says blasphemy reference in Constitution is ‘largely obsolete’>

Blasphemy offence should be replaced in the Constitution, says Convention>

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Dan MacGuill

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