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Monday 21 August 2017

We made blasphemy law 'almost impossible to prosecute' - former minister says about Stephen Fry garda investigation

Stephen Fry was the subject of the blasphemy allegation (Photo by Justin Tallis - WPA Pool /Getty Images)
Stephen Fry was the subject of the blasphemy allegation (Photo by Justin Tallis - WPA Pool /Getty Images)

Ryan Nugent

Former minister Dermot Ahern has said he had no choice but to include the blasphemy law in the Defamation Act - but the way in which the laws were implemented would make it "virtually impossible to prosecute".

English actor Stephen Fry is currently being investigated by gardaí over alleged blasphemous comments he made about God during an RTE programme in 2015.

The maximum fine from a conviction is €25,000.

However, speaking to the Irish Independent last night, former justice minister Mr Ahern said blasphemy was included in the 2009 law "because we had to" as it is written into the Constitution and was included in the previous defamation act.

"We diluted it in a way that made it pretty ineffectual," Mr Ahern said.

"We implemented the crime but made it in a way that it would be virtually impossible to prosecute."

Mr Ahern said that ideally he would have held a referendum on abolishing the law, but the economic climate would have made it impossible.

He said there would have been a major backlash given the job losses and wage cuts at the time.

Meanwhile, broadcaster Gay Byrne and writer Fry are both remaining tight-lipped over a Garda investigation into the alleged blasphemous comments.

The comments came during an interview with Byrne on 'The Meaning of Life' show in 2015.

The programme is based around exploring faith, with Fry describing God as "capricious", "mean-minded" and "stupid".

When contacted by the Irish Independent, Byrne said he would not be commenting on the controversy.

He said it would be "inappropriate" given the ongoing Garda investigation.

Fry is said not to be commenting on the matter for similar reasons.

The law 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".

The person must also intend to cause outrage.

When asked by Byrne what he would say if confronted by God at the pearly gates, 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?"

International expert on blasphemy laws at Oxford Brookes University, Professor David Nash, said that maintaining blasphemy laws in modern society is "utter folly" and that it should be repealed.

Irish Independent

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