Sunday 26 May 2019

Blasphemy swept away by 65pc margin

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Maeve Sheehan and Catherine Devine

With little fanfare and less debate, the people of Ireland deliverd a resounding vote to remove the crime of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.

Some 951,650 people voted 'yes' in the referendum that featured alongside the Presidential Election on Friday, making up 65 per cent of the total valid votes (1,467,458).

The move was welcomed by leading figures earlier in the day as exit polls carried out by RTE showed that the refenedum would remove the term from the Constitution.

Human rights organisation Amnesty Ireland described the move as "significant" for the status of human rights and freedom in Ireland.

"Today's vote is another important step towards a human rights compliant Constitution. People in Ireland have shown yet again that they value human rights and freedoms," Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty Ireland said.

Chairperson of Atheist Ireland Michael Nugent also welcomed the exit poll results, describing blasphemy as a "medieval crime".

"We will have removed a medieval crime, that was added to our constitution in 1937, and crowbarred into our statute books a decade ago," he said.

"Our laws will be able to protect people from harm, not protect ideas from criticism, and our media outlets will no longer have to self censor themselves."

Inserted in 1937, Article 40.6.1.i of the Constitution banned the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter and said they were offences that were punishable in accordance with the law.

No one was ever prosecuted for blasphemy in Ireland. But in recent years the actor Stephen Fry prompted an unexpected national debate on the subject over comments he made about God on Gay Byrne's Meaning of Life programme.

"Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?" he replied, when asked what he would say to God at the gates of Heaven.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the constitutional clause was "a bit outdated" and removing the offence would "further modernise" the Constitution, saying: "It's very much part of a reform of our whole Constitution to make the country more modern."

Sunday Independent

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