Ahern dismisses blasphemy 'hysteria'

 

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern today accused conspiracy theorists of whipping up hysteria around his plans to modernise laws on blasphemy.

The Minister wants to reform existing legislation to punish those who cause insult to religions rather than holding a referendum to change the Constitution.

He said he is being forced to act now to prevent a legal loophole in the new Defamation Bill which is currently proceeding through the Dáil and Seanad.

Mr Ahern today told an Oireachtas Committee he was puzzled by the “hysterical and incorrect reaction” to his proposals.

“It does show that when you scratch the surface, there is an incredible intolerance among pseudo-liberals in this country,” he added.

“I’ve even been called a Catholic fundamentalist by a person who I believe to have a brain the size of a pea,” he told TDs and Senators.

Mr Ahern said the only time he visited Rome was when Lazio played Roma in Rome’s football derby.

He also denied he or his officials consulted religious organisations before making his proposals.

Mr Ahern added: “I hope that my explanations will help to put at rest the minds of all those fantasy conspiracy theorists that have detected dark machinations and bogey men behind this proposal.”

The Constitution states that the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.

Under the Defamation Act 1961, any person who composes, prints or publishes any blasphemous or obscene libel is liable to a fine and up to seven years in jail.

However the new Defamation Bill replaces the threat of a prison sentence with a €100,000 fine.

Mr Ahern said: “To continue with the reform of our defamation legislation, I must respect the advice of successive Attorney Generals that there is a constitutional obligation on me not to leave a legal void.”

He also rejected “ludicrous” claims that he was seeking to raise extra Exchequer revenue with the legislation.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan suggested holding a referendum to amend the Constitution on the issue must be given further consideration.

PA