Blasphemy Referendum Commitment from Irish Government
Open Letter to Minister Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin – Minister of State for Equality, New Communities & Culture
8th January 2015
Re: Commitment for referendum on blasphemy offence in Constitution
I was in the process of writing this letter to you regarding the lack of clarity over the status of the government commitment to the referendum on the blasphemy offence in the constitution for the Blasphemy.ie website belonging to Atheist Ireland. I am now revising it in the aftermath of the events in Paris, where clearly certain people have decided that the penalty for blasphemy should be death, even if the state does not consider it a crime.
In October 2014 you were quoted in numerous press articles as announcing the government commitment to a blasphemy referendum after you tweeted on 2nd October 2014
Then in the opening days of January 2015 we are reading of unnamed government sources telling us that constitution change for the blasphemy offence will not be included in the referendums planned for May 2015, nor indeed is any such referendum being planned for the lifetime of this government.
I am asking you as minister for a response to two specific questions:
1) What is the official government current position on the commitment you made above for a referendum on blasphemy?
2) If a referendum cannot go ahead what is the official government position on prosecuting anyone for the many offences of blasphemy committed since the legislation was introduced and the many more likely to be committed since the events in Paris?
Even if we ignore the advice from so many human rights, equality and other groups in Ireland who have pointed out the many problems with our constitution and legislation position on blasphemy, I am sure you are well aware of the damage to Ireland’s reputation both at home and abroad this legislation and the government apparent inaction on the issue is causing.
Yesterday, 7th January 2014, Irish listeners were treated to Ali Selim, a lecturer in Trinity College (my alma mater) and the spokesperson for the Islamic Cultural Center in Clonskeagh, tell listeners on a national radio station that he and others will take legal action to prosecute for blasphemy anyone in Ireland supporting Charlie Hebdo. He can do this in Ireland because we have such legislation, whereas it does not exist in France (or most developed countries). Can you imagine the effect on anyone so prosecuted given what happened to Salman Rusdie and the journalists in Paris? Do the Gardai have the resources to protect all such Irish individuals and journalists from the target they would become for religious extremists simply by being labelled potential blasphemers under our legislation?
I enclose a number of recent articles from major international publications on the image of Ireland that is being projected by our government’s position on blasphemy. I ask that when you answer my questions above and reconsider the damage being done to Ireland and its citizens by continued inaction on correcting this position. I trust that the information included with this letter will assist in any case for reinstating the commitment to remove the offence of blasphemy from the constitution and legislation and repairing the rights of our citizens and rebuilding our image abroad with regard to this issue.
I was delaying this letter while preparing research on the electoral case for holding the referendum but have decided to expedite it without this background and will add them later. I am sure the Labour Party and Fine Gael both have excellent figures on the electoral and party support for repealing blasphemy. Suffice to say, in the absence of the full research, that it has 2 to 1 support from the electorate as a whole, the supporters of both parties and rises considerably among younger voters. To quote the Irish Times:
Asked how they would vote, 50 per cent said they would vote Yes to delete the offence, 19 per cent said they would vote No, 26 per cent no opinion and 5 per cent said they would not vote.
This alone should be grounds for expediting the referendum and legislation changes, even before the events in Paris.
This letter will be published on the Atheist Ireland website at www.blasphemy.ie
The Economist – Blasphemy, Pakistan and Ireland An evil that resonates – October 2014
Reuters – Ireland to vote on removal of blasphemy law last used in 1855 – October 2014
The Guardian – Ireland set to call referendum on blasphemy laws – September 2014
Irish Times – Half of Irish electorate supports abolition of blasphemy – October 2014
The Telegraph – Veena Malik and the modern witch-hunt of Pakistani blasphemy laws – August 2014