Tuesday 16 July 2019

Blasphemy law may prompt signal of respect at a time when it is needed

Decision time: Garda Sgt John Gallagher and presiding officer Carmel McBride arrive by helicopter yesterday with a ballot box for the vote on Inishbofin island, Co Donegal. Photo: Reuters
Decision time: Garda Sgt John Gallagher and presiding officer Carmel McBride arrive by helicopter yesterday with a ballot box for the vote on Inishbofin island, Co Donegal. Photo: Reuters
Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

In one of his early essays on constitutional law, Donal Barrington addressed the relationship between Church and State in Irish law. He observed that the Constitution is infused with "intense veneration for almighty God", and remarked on how the clause on religion (Article 44) obliged the State to hold God's name in reverence and respect, and honour religion.

Even allowing for some recent and most unfortunate amendments to the Constitution, what Donal Barrington said still holds.

There is little that is new under the sun, however, and the nation heard a familiar refrain on RTÉ on Wednesday morning.

In perhaps the most curious intervention in the debate, such as it is, a Government minister suggested that Ireland is now "a more compassionate, open society and it [the clause mentioning blasphemy] gives out the wrong signal internationally that we still have it in our Constitution".

There are other dimensions to the issue not addressed by this intervention.

Religion is almost universally regarded as a vital dimension of human flourishing and fulfilment. A law on blasphemy, no matter how rarely invoked, is an acknowledgement of this dimension of the human good by the political community. Clearly, a law on blasphemy does not in any way prevent cogent and even forceful and sustained argument over religious doctrines and practices.

So, insofar as people do argue over the meaning and implications of doctrine, and this is not at issue under any law, stirring up "wild and improper feelings" (R v Hetherington 1840), or needlessly giving offence to believers is hardly beneficial to reasonable, responsible and civilly minded discourse.

Coarse and cruel speech, art and words are not in short supply, but add nothing to our conversation or culture.

It says little of any of us if we can't speak to and of each other or to God in a way which is polite and doesn't give offence.

Our experience of human nature, and the 'endless twistiness of the human mind', does suggest that a law prohibiting such irreverence might prompt an outward, even if inwardly grudging, form of respect. It is difficult to see what is wrong with such respect or such a signal.

Compassion does extend to believers and open-mindedness is not at all equivalent to encouraging crude and offensive publications and utterances, or necessarily approving of same.

Fr Seán MacGiollarnáth
Carmelite Order, Dublin 2

Abolishing law will allow abuse of religious belief

The blasphemy law in Ireland is incomparable to the draconian decrees against blasphemy found in autocratic regimes such as Pakistan.

Our blasphemy law does not compel anyone to be religious, nor does it prohibit criticism of religion. It does not put religion upon an untouchable pedestal, nor does it endorse any specific religion. It simply criminalises the utterance or publication of "any matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage…" (Defamation Act 2009). This law preserves respectful discourse - it provides an open and considerate environment in which genuine dissent and debate can take place. Is there anything wrong with that?

Any call for the blasphemy law to be abolished indicates a desire to insult and abuse religious belief. What does it say about our society if we wish to be allowed to make grossly abusive and insulting statements regarding matters held sacred by religion? It is high time we halted the secular crusaders in their war against religious belief in Ireland by voting No in this referendum.

Esther Burke
Castlebar, Co Mayo

Race for Áras was skewed in favour of Michael D

Over the past three days, the Irish Independent has printed articles on the poor calibre of the challengers to President Michael D Higgins. The blame for this lies squarely with the incumbent.

An incumbent has huge advantages over a rival. He gets media exposure in simply doing his job. Unless the President messes up in some major way, people are unlikely to look beyond him. Many good potential candidates, such as Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh and Miriam O'Callaghan, knew it wouldn't be a fair contest and wisely never entered the race. Likewise for Senator Gerard Craughwell, who had come to national attention simply for his desire for there to be an election. In the interest of democracy, Michael D should have honoured his promise to be a one-term President.

Michael D left it until the very end to publicly announce he would be seeking a second term. His potential rivals had to decide quite quickly if they were going to run. This gave them a very short window to gain the council nominations as well as mount a credible campaign. The odds were skewed against them in every way.

I believe in democracy. I also believe in fair play. For this reason, President Higgins is getting nothing from me.

Joan Freeman was the only genuine candidate in my view, and is getting my No 1. Peter Casey, for bringing some fun to an otherwise dull campaign and giving two fingers to the PC brigade, is getting my No 2.

Tommy Roddy
Salthill, Co Galway

Casey is no racist and his views are shared by many

My family, going back more than a century, knew and respected what is now called the Travelling community.

They were called 'tinkers' because they repaired pots and pans, etc. They were fully integrated in the local community.

I believe Peter Casey speaks for more people than his critics like to believe, and is certainly not a racist.

At one time Charlie Flanagan, a man I hold in high regard, had also put forward an opinion promoting integration not segregation.

Tony Moriarty
Dublin 6

Irish Independent

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