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Social Democrats introduce Bills to strike out obsolete and offensive blasphemy offence

The Social Democrats will this week introduce draft legislation to remove the obsolete offence of blasphemy from the Constitution and the Statue Book.

The party will on Wednesday bring forward two separate Private Members’ Bills to ensure that Ireland’s legal framework enshrines full respect for freedom of speech.

The country’s outdated blasphemy laws recently sparked controversy when a complaint was made against British comedian Stephen Fry over comments he made about God in a televised interview with Gay Byrne.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD said:

“We didn’t need to witness the recent spectacle of a public figure facing possible criminal charges for simply expressing his beliefs for us to know that our blasphemy laws are ridiculously harsh, outdated and offensive.

“We do a great disservice to our country by allowing the offence of blasphemy to remain in our Constitution and on our Statute Book.

“As far back as 1991, the Law Reform Commission recommended the removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution – and proposed that it be taken in conjunction with another referendum to save expense. In a society where freedom of expression is valued and supported, there is absolutely no excuse for inaction on this.”

The Social Democrats will introduce to the Dáil two separate Bills to modernise the legal code in this area.

The Thirty Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Blasphemy) Bill 2017 would allow for a referendum seeking the approval of the electorate for the removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution. This reform was recommended by the Law Reform Commission in 1991.

The second draft law, the Defamation (Amendment) Bill 2017, would remove the offence of blasphemy by repealing sections 36 and 37 of the Defamation Act 2009.

Deputy Shortall added:

“The offence of blasphemy offends the principle of freedom of speech and in any case offers little protection for genuine cases of deliberate incitement to hatred.

“Our incitement to hatred legislation is currently under review. I urge the Minister to update it without delay to offer better protection in cases where minority and indeed majority religious groups face deliberate and excessive provocation. For now though, there is no reason why we can’t proceed with updating our Constitution.”