Irish public to vote on removing ‘blasphemous’ from constitution

Ireland is to go to the polls on Friday to vote for the presidency, and will also hold a historic referendum on blasphemy.

The vote is on whether to remove the word blasphemous from the constitution.

The publication or saying of something blasphemous is currently a criminal offence defined in the Defamation Act 2009.

If the majority of the public votes Yes on Friday, the word will be removed from the constitution and the Oireachtas is permitted to change the law.

Ivana Bacik
Ivana Bacik

If the majority votes No, the constitution will remain unchanged and blasphemy will remain a criminal offence.

The legal definition of blasphemy is to publish or say something that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage amongst a substantial number of the followers of that religion and with the intention to cause that outrage.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, who backs a Yes vote, says the law is outdated and represents an Ireland of the past.

“I think it’s very important that we now remove the offence of blasphemy, it’s an outdated offence, it belongs to a different era – when church and state were seen as the same,” she said.

“It’s unnecessary, and we’ve seen blasphemy offences used to encroach on free speech rights in other countries.

“I would never be complacent about any referendum result, and I think the focus has been on the election predominately, so I do hope people will see sense and will recognise that the best thing to do is to remove the offence of blasphemy.”

Seamus Kennedy, 72, from Kildare, says he feels the blasphemy referendum is a step too far for Ireland.

“Blasphemy is solely the offence of uttering, inwardly or outwardly, words of hatred, defiance or speaking ill of God. This is the correct explanation of the word and any society who wants this removed has serious ulterior motives,” he said.

“I would say it’s part of the lowering of the moral bar in Ireland at this time. This is the final straw and I believe it will be a bridge too far.

“The Irish Government and, I’m sad to say, the Irish Bishops Conference are showing zero leadership once again.”

A number of religious institutions have said they would be encouraging a Yes vote, including the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, which said the legislation was “obsolete”.

Rev Trevor Gribben, the general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said: “Like other denominations who have stated their position publicly, we also acknowledge that the current reference to blasphemy in the constitution is largely obsolete and may give rise to concern because of the way such measures have been used to justify violence and oppression against minorities in other parts of the world.”

Every major political party including Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein has publicly thrown its support behind the Yes campaign.

The referendum will take place on Friday October 26.