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Sunday 17 December 2017

Constitutional Convention calls for blasphemy referendum

Lyndsey Telford

The Constitutional Convention is to recommend that the offence of blasphemy be removed from Irish law.

Members of the convention voted in favour of replacing the existing offence with a general provision that includes incitement to religious hatred.

It is hoped this will help protect religious minorities.

Convention chairman Tom Arnold confirmed a formal report outlining the recommendations would be compiled and sent to Government.

"There was a high level of public interest in this part of the convention's business and there were varying viewpoints on the merits of a blasphemy provision in the Constitution of a modern democracy," Mr Arnold said.

"It was the task of convention members to assess these issues in a respectful and dispassionate way. It was incredibly important that all sides of this discussion were treated in fairest possible manner and the arguments for-and-against were treated with the utmost respect."

The Government now has four months to respond to the recommendations with a debate in the Oireachtas.

If it agrees to amend the Constitution, it must also include a timeframe for a referendum.

Academics and legal experts gave presentations at the two-day event, along with members of Atheist Ireland, the Humanist Association of Ireland, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland.

The convention's 100 members voted on the issue, with 82% in favour of introducing a new set of detailed legislative provisions to include incitement to religious hatred.

Under current law, a person found guilty of publishing or uttering "blasphemous matters" can be fined, on indictment, a maximum 25,000 euro.

This includes anything that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion.

Greater definition was given to the criminal offence of blasphemy on the back of the Defamation Bill 2006, which was signed into law in July 2009.

Meanwhile, Mr Arnold has urged all citizens to consider areas of the Constitution they think should be reformed.

He said the convention is now in the process of assessing the next issues that should be looked at by members, the themes of which include environment, church and state, Bill of Rights, the family and issues of morality.

"I would like to encourage all citizens to participate in this process and to make their views known if they feel that an issue should be looked at by the convention," Mr Arnold said.

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