Now not the time for referendum on blasphemy, says Ahern

 

THERE WERE no plans in “the immediate future” for a referendum deleting the constitutional prohibition on blasphemy, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern told the Dáil.

Mr Ahern said that he remained of the view that, on the grounds of cost, a referendum on blasphemy should not be held on its own. It should be run, possibly together with one or more referendums.

“I would be happy to propose to the Government a referendum on blasphemy at the appropriate time,” he added.

Labour justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte pressed Mr Ahern to say if he was going to hold a referendum this year. Mr Ahern replied: “It is not for me to decide, here on the floor of the House, whether I should hod a referendum. That is a matter for Government to propose, and, obviously, ultimately for the Oireachtas to dispose a piece of legislation in that respect.”

Mr Rabbitte said he was amazed at the Minister’s reply. “He told at least one Sunday newspaper that he had such plans,” he added.

The indication was, said Mr Rabbitte, that it would be held in conjunction with the referendum on children’s rights. He asked if the Minister was resiling from the position that he would recommend to the Cabinet that there be a referendum on blasphemy.

It seemed to Mr Rabbitte that if the referendum on the rights of the child were to proceed this year, the Government could not reasonably prevent three byelections being also held. He wondered if the Government planned other putative constitutional referendums to be included with the one on children’s rights and delay matters until next year.

Mr Rabbitte claimed that the Minister’s reply was “a backtracking” on what he understood the position to be from the Taoiseach in the Dáil.

Mr Ahern repeated that he would be happy to propose to the Government a referendum on blasphemy at the appropriate time.

“I did indicate that given the fact the programme for government indicated that we would have two or three referendums – if my memory serves me correctly – in the lifetime of the Government, it may be appropriate to add on a referendum relating to to the article to which you refer,” he added.

Pressed by Mr Rabbitte to say if the blasphemy referendum would be included with a referendum on children’s rights, Mr Ahern said that no decision had been made.

Mr Ahern added that a Minister could not make such a decision in the Dáil. He added: “It has to be made by Government, and, obviously, the content relating to how we would deal with the article in the Constitution – whether we would take it out all together and leave it and say nothing or to adhere to some of the recommendations that have been made by the committee on the Constitution – all of those things would be taken into account.” He added that they would “wait and see” how it would be dealt with.