Blasphemy offence due to be removed by Easter

Minister for Justice has published Bill to give effect to referendum result

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan  said his Bill would ensure that prosecutions for blasphemy will be no longer possible. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said his Bill would ensure that prosecutions for blasphemy will be no longer possible. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is planning to remove the offence of blasphemy by next Easter.

Mr Flanagan today published a Bill to give effect to the result of October’s referendum where voters overwhelmingly supported the proposal to remove blasphemy as an offence from the Constitution.

The final result showed that 64.85% voted Yes while 35.15% voted No.

Mr Flanagan said his Bill would ensure that prosecutions for blasphemy will be no longer possible. The Department of Justice expects that the legislation will be passed by mid-April, depending on what Brexit-related legislation needs to be passed before then.

“During the course of the referendum campaign, it was made very clear that, in the event of the referendum proposal being agreed, the Government would respond by bringing forward legislation which would repeal sections 36 and 37 of the Defamation Act 2009 which provide a statutory basis for the offence of blasphemy. The repeal of those sections is the key element in the General Scheme which has been published on my Department’s website. The proposed repeal is fully in accord with the policy that it should no longer be possible to initiate a prosecution for blasphemy in this jurisdiction.”

Poster on the referendum on Blasphemy in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Poster on the referendum on Blasphemy in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mr Flanagan said he is also moving to reform defamation laws.

“I would like to confirm that my Department is finalising a review of the Defamation Act 2009 which will address issues other than those falling within the scope of the cheme which has just been published.”

He said after a public consultation, issues to be covered by the review will include the respective roles of judge and jury in defamation cases, the defences available to the media in the context of public-interest news reporting, and the level of damages which can be awarded by Irish courts in defamation cases.

“This review is a priority for me and I expect that it should be completed during the first quarter of 2019”.