Tuesday 25 July 2017

Gardaí launch blasphemy probe into Stephen Fry comments on 'The Meaning of Life'

  • Exclusive: Member of the public reported that comments breached 2009 Blasphemy Law
  • A spokesman for Fry said: '[There is] nothing for us to say while this is under investigation'
Stephen Fry on The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne
Stephen Fry on The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne
Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

GARDAI have launched an investigation after a TV viewer claimed comments made by Stephen Fry on an RTE show were blasphemous.

Independent.ie can reveal that a member of the public reported the allegation to Ennis garda Station following a broadcast of ‘The Meaning of Life’, hosted by Gay Byrne, in February 2015.

Gardaí in Donnybrook have recently contacted the man who made the report and a senior source revealed a full investigation is now due to be carried out.

Under the Defamation Act 2009 a person who publishes or utters blasphemous material "shall be guilty of an offence". They are be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.

The specific complaint relates to an interview conducted on 'The Meaning of Life' with Mr Fry. During the show the comedian and writer was questioned about what he might say to God at the pearly gates.

Mr Fry replied: "How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?"

Gay Byrne reacts to Stephen Fry on The Meaning of Life - the interview caused a big reaction
Gay Byrne reacts to Stephen Fry on The Meaning of Life - the interview caused a big reaction

He went on to say that if he was met by the Greek gods he would accept them quicker because, "they didn’t present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all beneficent."

He added: "Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.

"We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him. What kind of god would do that?"

A clip of the interview was posted online and it has since been viewed over seven million times.

A member of the public, who asked not to be identified, told Independent.ie he travelled to Ennis Garda station, Co Clare that month to reports the alleged blasphemy.

"I told the Garda I wanted to report Fry for uttering blasphemy and RTE for publishing/broadcasting it and that I believed these were criminal offences under the Defamation Act 2009.

"The garda then took a formal written statement from me in which I quoted Fry’s comments in detail. This written statement mentioned both Fry and RTÉ specifically."

He said he was asked by the garda if he had been personally offended by the programme and If he wished to include this in the written statement. 

"I told the Garda that I did not want to include this as I had not personally been offended by Fry's comments - I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry on RTÉ were criminal blasphemy and that  I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime."

The complainant was told that the garda would “look into it” and report the matter to his superiors.

"In late 2016 I wrote to the Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan asking if the crime I reported was being followed up - a few weeks later I got a standard 'we have received your letter' from her secretary."

A number of weeks ago the complainant was called by a detective from Donnybrook garda station to say they were looking into the report he made about blasphemy on RTÉ.

"He said he might have to meet me to take a new more detailed statement."

The viewer insisted that he wasn’t offended by the remarks but stressed that he believed Mr Fry’s comments qualified as blasphemy under the law.

A garda source said the matter is being investigated.

"A complaint has been received and it is currently being investigated. Detectives will speak to those involved if they are available and a file will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)."

A well-placed source said it was "highly unlikely" that a prosecution would take place.

A spokesman for Mr Fry said: "[There is] nothing for us to say while this is under investigation."

Atheist Ireland said it welcomed the garda investigation into Mr Fry for blasphemy, saying it "highlights a law that is silly, silencing, and dangerous".

"On 1 January 2010, the day the new Irish blasphemy law became operational, Atheist Ireland published a list of 25 blasphemous quotes in order to challenge the law," it said in a statement on its website, atheist.ie.

"Today, in solidarity with Stephen Fry, we are republishing those 25 blasphemous quotes, and adding in the quotation that has caused the Irish police to investigate Stephen Fry.

"If we are prosecuted, we will challenge the constitutionality of the blasphemy law. If we are not prosecuted, it will again highlight the absurdity of this law, which should be repealed immediately. We again call on the Irish Government to honour its commitment to hold a referendum to remove the ban on blasphemy from our Constitution."

Ireland is the only country in the developed world to have introduced a blasphemy law this century.

Pakistan and other repressive states pointed to our law as an example of a law they wished to pursue, Ivana Bacik

The law passed in 2009 and was introduced in January 2010 and it carries a maximum fine of €25,000.

It prohibits the “publishing or uttering [of] matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion”.

There have been no publicised cases of blasphemy brought before Irish courts.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, a qualified barrister who campaigned against the introduction of the law in 2009, said this was a "most unusual" case.

She said then Justice Minister Dermot Ahern made a grave error introducing the blasphemy law in 2009 and while criminal prosecutions haven’t been pursued in Ireland the law has been used as a model by other less democratic states.

"Pakistan and other repressive states pointed to our law as an example of a law they wished to pursue.

"It is being used as a model by these regimes and this is not what Ireland should aspire to."

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