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Blasphemy offence on course to be removed from Constitution

The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll

The referendum on removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution is on track to be passed, with a bare majority of respondents to today’s poll saying they will back the second change to the constitution this year.

Just over half (51 per cent) of voters say they will vote in favour of removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution, while 19 per cent say they will vote to keep it.

A quarter of voters (25 per cent) are undecided, while 4 per cent said they would not vote.

Support for removing the blasphemy reference in the Constitution is highest in Dublin, at 63 per cent, and weakest in Connacht-Ulster, where 45 per cent say they will vote in favour and 31 per cent will vote against. A further 22 per cent say they don’t know.

Older voters are also less likely to support the change, with 41 per cent of over 65s in favour compared to 56 per cent of 18-24 year olds. The wealthiest AB voters are also more likely to support the change (59 per cent) than less well-off DE voters (39 per cent).

While the pro-removal side has a strong lead, a low turnout allied to the repeat of previous similar referendums where “don’t knows” broke disproportionately for the status quo, could close the gap somewhat on polling day.

While the move to the No side among “don’t knows” did not occur during the most recent referendum on abortion, this was a proposal that was exhaustively debated in public for months beforehand. By contrast, there has been little debate on the blasphemy referendum. In such circumstances, “don’t knows” often vote No – though there has virtually been no campaigns on either side.

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

Matters held sacred

Blasphemy itself is defined in the Defamation Act as “something that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”.

To be guilty of an offence, someone must intend to cause such outrage. There have been no prosecutions under the Act.

The proposal to amend the Constitution suggests that the word “blasphemous” should be deleted from the article, meaning the Oireachtas could legislate to remove the criminal offence of blasphemy.

The poll was conducted on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week among a representative sample of 1,200 voters aged 18 and over in face-to-face interviews at 120 sampling points in all constituencies. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 per cent.