Social Democrats introduce Bills to safeguard freedom of speech by abolishing archaic blasphemy offence

July 12, 2017

The Social Democrats today publish draft laws to safeguard freedom of speech by abolishing the archaic offence of blasphemy.

The two Private Members’ Bills will be introduced in the Dáil today by the party’s co-leader Róisín Shortall TD.

One Bill provides for a referendum to repeal the blasphemy provision in the Constitution, while the other removes the offence of blasphemy from the Statute Book.

Deputy Shortall said: “The offence of blasphemy is archaic, obsolete, and unnecessary. It fundamentally offends the principle of freedom of speech, promotes disrespect for our laws, and damages our international reputation.

“Recently, a former Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, admitted that the law in this area is ridiculous and needs to be repealed. That was in response to the embarrassing publicity for our country where an internationally renowned comedian faced possible charges and a €25,000 fine for simply expressing his beliefs on a TV programme about faith.

“Many of us could have been fooled into thinking it was an elaborate joke. It wasn’t. And as long as we maintain an offence of blasphemy in our laws, the joke is actually on us. The Social Democrats believe that the offence of blasphemy is an out of date concept and should be removed from our Constitution and our laws. It is yet one more example of where Church and State need to be fully separated.”

The first Bill to be introduced today is the Thirty Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Blasphemy) Bill 2017.

This allows for a referendum seeking the approval of the electorate for the removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution. This would involve amending Article 40.6.1 (i) of the Constitution. This reform was recommended by the Law Reform Commission in 1991.

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

Deputy Shortall added:

“Having the offence of blasphemy on our Statute Book offers little protection for genuine cases of deliberate incitement to hatred. That legislation is now under review and 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 and removing this offence from the Statute Book. In a society where freedom of expression is valued and supported, there is absolutely no excuse for inaction on this, and we hope we can count on the support of Deputies on all sides.”


12 July 2017

Thirty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Blasphemy) Bill 2017

Defamation (Amendment) Bill 2017