Blasphemy and the Constitution
Sir, – Kevin Hargaden (“Don’t blame Christians for the Stephen Fry ‘blasphemy’ nonsense”, Opinion & Analysis, May 11th) seeks to distance the influence of the Irish Catholic church from the offence of blasphemy by noting that the prescribed legislation, the Defamation Act 2009, was passed well after the church’s influence on Irish politics had waned.
Similarly, Tim O’Halloran in his letter (Blasphemy and the Constitution, 11 May 2017 (May 11th) states that the blasphemy law is not “a holdover from the reign of Charles McQuaid” and that “no one seems exactly clear on what the government’s motivation was” for enacting the blasphemy provision of the 2009 Act.
Far from being a mystery, we know exactly what the government’s motivation was – for they told us explicitly at the time. In May 2009, the minister for justice, Dermot Ahern, wrote (“Position of blasphemy in our Constitution cannot be ignored”, May 1st, 2009): “The key point here is that successive attorneys general have advised the various ministers for justice, in the context of the reform of defamation law and the repeal of the 1961 Act, that Article 40.6.1.i of the Constitution imposes an obligation to implement the constitutional offence of blasphemy. That article specifically states that the publication of blasphemous matter ‘is an offence which should be punishable in accordance with law’.”
Given the Constitution was enacted in 1937, it is remarkable that Mr Hargaden and Mr O’Halloran doubt that Article 40.6.1.i of the Constitution and section 36 of the Defamation Act 2009 are anything other than a holdover from a time when government ministers feared a “belt of a crozier”. – Yours, etc,