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Sunday 17 February 2019

Offence of blasphemy should be abolished, says committee

Aine Kerr

THE offence of blasphemy is likely to be dropped from the Irish Constitution after recommendations from a Dail committee.

The joint committee on the Constitution said yesterday that changes to the Constitution in the areas of freedom of expression and blasphemy are required and should be voted on in a future referendum.

The Oireachtas report concluded that constitutional references to freedom of expression are unsatisfactory and focus too much on the limitations on free speech.

The Defamation Bill 2006 now proposes to repeal the 1961 Act and thereby abolish the common law offence of blasphemy. Committee chairman, Sean Ardagh, said the Constitution should be amended along the lines of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights in order to ensure greater emphasis on the freedom of speech.

"The committee is of the view that amendment is not immediately necessary but recommends that change be made when an appropriate opportunity presents," he said. Mr Ardagh added that changes could be made alongside another referendum vote. However, he stressed there was no urgent requirement to make the changes.

A constitutional reference which deems publication or utterance of "blasphemous, seditious or indecent matters" as an offence punishable in accordance with the law should also be deleted, according to the report. However, the committee noted that recent incidents highlighted that religious offence is still something which can cause genuine distress. It cited the performance of Tommy Tiernan on the 'Late Late Show', the reaction to the 'Jerry Springer, the Opera' in England and the publication of controversial cartoons in Denmark.

"Notwithstanding this, it is the committee's view that the specific reference to blasphemy should be deleted from the Constitution," the report stated.

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