Controversial Defamation Bill passes by a single vote


SEANAD REPORT:THE DEFAMATION Bill was passed by a single vote after the Government nearly suffered a defeat on an amendment by Fine Gael’s Eugene Regan which would have deleted the offence of blasphemy from the Bill.

The Opposition won one of the electronic votes on Senator Regan’s proposed amendment, but the amendment was defeated by one vote in the subsequent “walk-through” vote called by the Fianna Fáil whip. The cathaoirleach had to cast his vote in two other crucial divisions to ensure victory for the Government.

Seanad deputy leader Dan Boyle (Green Party) indicated his party’s preference for a constitutional referendum in “the mid-term” on the issue of blasphemy. However, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said he would hazard a guess it was unlikely they would come back to this issue for some time.

The Minister rejected Mr Regan’s contention that the matter of blasphemy could be adequately dealt with by an amendment to the Incitement to Hatred Act, saying what was blasphemous did not necessarily constitute incitement to hatred.

During exchanges with Ivana Bacik, the Minister said he had never in his political career received so many e-mails expressing outrage as he had on this issue. Ms Bacik said under the proposed legislation, Fr Willie Russell from Rathkeale, Co Limerick, a critic of those in his parish who appeared to be worshipping a tree with the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, could be open to a charge of blasphemy because he had stated that no one could “worship a tree”.

Referring to his membership of the Green Party, Mr Boyle said: “Apparently I come from a party of tree worshippers.” While Mr Boyle would support the Bill, he said the measure on blasphemy was nothing but a legalistic repair job.

Ronan Mullen (Ind) said the Minister was correct in not seeking to propose the deletion of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution.

Developers were moving their legal business to Arthur Cox because of their belief it had the “inside track” on the National Asset Management Agency, Eugene Regan (FG) said.

The solicitors were legal advisers to the Bank of Ireland and had been appointed recently by the National Treasury Management Agency in relation to Nama, having also been retained as advisers to the Department of Finance.

“There are, at least, five or six major law firms in this city with the same capacity as Arthur Cox, solicitors. This is the type of Fianna Fáil cronyism which has destroyed the Irish economy,” he said.

Terry Leyden (FF) said it was not fair that Mr Regan had been allowed to make disparaging comments about a very reputable company. Arthur Cox should be afforded an opportunity to refute what had been said by Mr Regan.

Seanad leader Donie Cassidy said Mr Regan could raise the matter with the Minister for Finance in the House today.