Blasphemy referendum to go ahead on October 26th as Minister signs order

Removal from Constitution has been recommended for more than 20 years

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy has urged voters to  to go to their polling station  on  October 26th so they can have their say in the outcome of the blasphemy referendum. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy has urged voters to to go to their polling station on October 26th so they can have their say in the outcome of the blasphemy referendum. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

A referendum on removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution is to take place on the same date at the presidential election.

Voters will be asked on October 26th whether the controversial Article should be retained or removed.

Blasphemy is defined as “matter 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”.

It rose to prominence last year when a complaint was made over British actor Stephen Fry making critical comments about God during an interview on RTÉ, leading to a criminal investigation, although no prosecution was brought.

Signing the order that allows the referendum to proceed later this month, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy said: “Whatever your views are on the proposals in the referendum, can I take this opportunity to encourage voters to go to their polling station during this 15 hour period on 26 October and have your say in the outcome of the referendum.”

The Defamation Act 2009 made blasphemy a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine.

Its removal from the Constitution was recommended by the Law Reform Commission as far back as 1991.

Voters must be Irish citizens and appropriately registered to vote.

The removal of the blasphemy provision is supported by the vast majority of Oireachtas members though independent Senator Rónán Mullen described the move as a “vanity project”.

“The reality is that no-one has been prosecuted for blasphemy in Ireland since 1855. The constitutional provision on blasphemy is symbolic in nature, and has never had any real legal impact. Abolishing it will not have any positive effect on the lives of Irish citizens who will pay over €3 million for this referendum, and confers absolutely no benefit on the public.”