Tuesday 25 June 2019

2009 blasphemy law was a result of failed case against a Sunday Independent cartoon

Former Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern
Former Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern

Ireland's prohibition of blasphemy was enshrined in the 1938 Constitution, but the current legal manifestation banning "publication or utterance of blasphemous matter" only passed into the statute books in 2009.

The change came about to fill a legal void after the Supreme Court had ruled 10 years previously that the old common law offence of "blasphemous libel" was incompatible with the Constitution's guarantee of religious equality.

The Supreme Court made the ruling after it had rejected an appeal by John Corway, who had taken a High Court action against the Sunday Independent over a cartoon he considered blasphemous.

The High Court ruled in the newspaper's favour.

The Supreme Court found that no jury would consider that an insult to the Blessed Sacrament existed or was intended in the cartoon.

In 2009 Justice Minister Dermot Ahern moved an amendment when the 2009 Defamation Act was going through the Oireachtas.

Under Section 36 a new offence of "Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter" was introduced with a maximum fine of €25,000 for uttering material "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion," when the intent and result is "outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion". However, a legal defence is permitted for work of "genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value."

Sunday Independent

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