Blasphemy law unlikely to come into force this year


THE CONTROVERSIAL new law on blasphemy has still not come into force, more than four months after President Mary McAleese enacted the Defamation Bill.

The law makes the publication or utterance of blasphemous matter a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine.

The President signed the Defamation Bill into law on July 23rd, having decided not to send it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said no part of the Bill had come into force yet but the Act was expected to be commenced in January.

The Defamation Act 2009 updates the law on defamation and provides for recognition of an independent Press Council.

However, it was the section providing for the offence of blasphemous libel which generated the most debate as the legislation made its way through the Oireachtas.

The law provides for the defence that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the Act was subject to a commencement order and it was intended to commence all provisions of the Act at the same time.

The rules of court need to be amended to accommodate procedural changes in the new legislation.

In July, the Department of Justice said the Act was expected to commence in October. It is now expected to commence in January 2010, the spokesman said.

Atheist Ireland had called on Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to delay signing the order until a referendum was held on the matter.