Ireland to hold referendum on blasphemy law

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Charlie Flanagan Image copyright PA
Image caption Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the referendum would mark an “important step” in Ireland’s “international reputation”

The Republic of Ireland will hold a referendum on whether to change its laws against blasphemy.

It is expected that the vote will be held on the same day as the Presidential election, which is likely to take place in October.

The move is part of a commitment made in the programme for government.

The previous Fine Gael-Labour coalition, which governed from 2011 to 2016, had promised a vote on the law.

However, it never followed through on a referendum, which is required to change any part of the Republic’s constitution.

The law on blasphemy was written into the 1937 constitution.

‘Strong message’

Part of Article 40 states: “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

In 2009, a new law made blasphemy punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 euros (£21,000).

British actor, comedian and writer Stephen Fry was investigated under blasphemy laws in 2015 after Irish police received a complaint over an interview with Irish national broadcaster RTÉ in which he called God stupid, selfish and “quite clearly a maniac”.

Image copyright PA
Image caption A complaint was made to Irish police that Stephen Fry had breached blasphemy laws in a TV interview in 2015

Gardaí (Irish police) dropped the investigation in 2017.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said: “In terms of Ireland’s international reputation, this is an important step.”

“By removing this provision from our Constitution, we can send a strong message to the world that laws against blasphemy do not reflect Irish values and that we do not believe such laws should exist.”

At the time, the Fianna Fáil led government said it was needed because the Republic’s 1937 constitution only gives Christians legal protection of their beliefs.

Previous Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the last known prosecution in Ireland was thought to be in 1855.

It is expected that the Irish government will also approve holding a vote on whether to remove a reference in the constitution to the role of “a woman’s life within the home”.

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