I have the right not merely to offend people, but to intend to
The Defamation Bill 2006 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 became law yesterday. They are driven by two differing requirements.
One is some strange impulse in Dermot Ahern's brain, which apparently obliges him to plant law where he sees a constitutional gap, and the other is the abject failure of both the law and of lawyers to keep pace with the mutating nature of crime.
The Ahern law on blasphemy must be the first law ever whose instigator is desperately hoping that it will never be invoked. Its potency depends not upon any legal definition on what blasphemy actually consists of, but solely on the "outrage" that the remark in question might intentionally cause.
Well, we have seen in other jurisdictions that outrage is a negotiable commodity, largely dependent on the agendas of rabble-rousers.
Baptists and Presbyterians, Methodists and Catholics, Jews and Buddhists do not call for blasphemy laws these days. Only Muslims do. And no doubt the minister's safety clause is "intent": if you do not intend to cause outrage, then you are not guilty.
Well, frankly, I think I have the right not merely to offend people, but the right to intend to do so. It is up to them, and their personal capacity to control their emotions, as to whether or not they are outraged.
Moreover, it is perfectly possible to contest the "intent" aspect in court. In 1971, the abominable loyalist thug John McKeague was prosecuted for his 'Loyalist Song Book', with its imperishable line, set to 'Wandering Star': "Bones are made for breaking, Skulls were made to crack, You've never seen a better taig, Than with a dagger in his back."
Yes, argued his counsel, Desmond Boal, these were loathsome and revolting sentiments: but could the Crown prove that he intended to cause hate? In the absence of John McKeague giving evidence against himself -- and even he wasn't that stupid -- it couldn't, of course.
McKeague went free, and was killed soon afterwards. No better man. (And he probably never knew that his name actually meant "Son of Taig").
Either way, the courts will sooner or later give the blasphemy law some interpretation which Dermot intended. For we know this happens. It happened with the constitutional ban on abortion, which by the alchemist's stone that lives in the Supreme Court, mysteriously became a divine authoriser of abortion. No. Don't ask.
So, our blasphemy could become a licence for zealots to impose their vision of society upon the rest of us. Who now in the Irish media will comment upon the nature of Islam and its impact on Irish life? If someone does, and the zealots are able to summon the necessary outrage for a successful prosecution, they will for certain seriously damage our basic freedoms of speech: and if they fail, then that is another reason for them to feel marginalised and victimised within this horrible bigoted Christian/secular society of ours, which we should change to suit them, NOW.
The Criminal Justice Bill also has Northern echoes, for it permits suspected gangsters to be tried before the Special Criminal Court, which was set up to deal with the IRA.
In as much as it was successful within its limited remit, with an 87pc conviction rate, it cannot be faulted: but its remit, and the general legal paraphernalia within which it operated, were gravely flawed.
And one of the key failings historically, and now, is that the right to silence is protected. Even today, a refusal to answer questions may merely be "taken into account" by a court.
So silence naturally became the terrorists' primary weapon in the legal war which accompanied the campaigns of murder. The IRA ran courses for its operatives on how to stay totally silent while being interrogated: and the psychological skills required for this have now leached into the broader criminal community, like effluent from a pipe.
What makes this even more ridiculous is that these criminals already have the protection of videoed interviews. Excellent. So, now they can be filmed as they imitate Charlie Chaplin pretending to be a side of beef for three days.
Moreover, just like the dear old IRA, these gangsters enjoy estate-wide cultures of terror/intimidation. Anyone giving evidence against even the criminal gangs' tea-maker is going to spend the rest of his life in a head-hunter's tree-hut in Borneo, with a bone through his nose and a dinky little loincloth covering the bits which will go into a mincer first, while still attached to his living body, if the gangsters ever catch up with him.
To guarantee gangsters the right to silence is to guarantee failure, just as it allowed the IRA to use this Republic as its operating base for 26 years. So, having failed through using the SCC once before, we're dusting it down and wheeling it out yet again.
Good news for the gangs, then, and a heart-warming assurance that they'll be around for another quarter of a century; at which point the arrival of Sharia law, and a few hundred deft strokes of a scimitar, will settle their hash once and for all.