"Blasphemous libel" proposal


Madam, – The National Union of Journalists is gravely concerned at the proposal by the Minister for Justice to amend the Defamation Bill creating a new crime of blasphemous libel.

The original Bill was enacted by Mr Michael McDowell, TD, during his tenure at the Department of Justice and was inherited by Mr Brian Lenihan, TD.

Neither Mr Lenihan nor Mr McDowell, both incidentally senior counsel, deemed it appropriate to bring forward such a fatwa against freedom of expression, despite the existence of the constitutional basis now invoked by Mr Ahern.

During the tortuous route of the original Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas no compelling case was made for an amendment on blasphemy. It is now time to enact that Bill, which is necessary to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman.

Mr Ahern is right to point to the provision of Article 40 of the Constitution, but rather than framing an amendment as proposed he should initiate a process of public consultation based on the findings of the Sean Ardagh chaired Committee on the Constitution, which recommended amending this article. The committee sensibly recommended a new article reflecting the provisions of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In any public debate due consideration must be given to the diverse nature of Irish society while lessons, good and bad, can be learned from international experience.

It may well be that a referendum could coincide with the next referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, although I believe there should be no rush to judgment on the subject.

For my part I do not believe any divine presence would begrudge us time for reflection on the subject. – Yours, etc,


Irish Secretary,

National Union of Journalists,

Spencer House,

Spencer Row,

Dublin 1.

A chara, – I refer to Fr John McCallion’s letter of (May 6th). I am personally thrilled to hear that in reference to homosexuals, “unjust discrimination should be avoided” by Catholics. This is a relief. For clarity, could he give a few examples of what “just discrimination” is? – Is mise,



Co Dublin.

Madam, – Fr John McCallion (May 6th) says he is “outraged” at what he calls the continued misrepresentation of his church’s teaching on homosexuality.

He tells us that while his church teaches that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”, it also teaches that “homosexual persons themselves are to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity and every sense of unjust discrimination should be avoided”.

Does Fr McCallion really believe that this patronising “compassion” outweighs or negates the insult of “intrinsically disordered”? If his church applied this teaching to heterosexuals it would come out like this: While sexual acts of that sexual orientation are intrinsically disordered, heterosexual persons themselves are to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity and every sense of unjust discrimination should be avoided.

How does the shoe fit? Would outrage not be expected? Fr McCarrion accuses the media of not taking the trouble to “check the facts” about what his church is saying on this subject but of indulging in “cathophobia”.

But the media know exactly what Fr McCarrion’s church has being saying on the subject for many years.

Even (new to Catholicism) former British prime minister, Tony Blair, recently (and impressively) quoted the precise words written by the Pope (then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986) and said that they were no longer acceptable in society today. Cardinal Ratzinger described the homosexual orientation as – “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”.

Many would say that to describe a God-given sexual orientation in such a fashion is blasphemous.

Fr McCallion’s “outrage” should be directed toward Rome and not the media. – Yours, etc,


Pitt Street,


New South Wales,


A chara, – Seamus Mulconry and Dualta Rougheen (May 7th) claim that the reaction to the “Blasphemous libel” proposal is over the top. They seek to reassure us that first, the Minister is actually trying to neuter the current legal and constitutional position and should be congratulated on this and second, that his proposed language is to ensure that nobody could ever be prosecuted under such a proposal.

They claim this is a better proposal than changing the Constitution to achieve the same end. Do they think we believe this?

Surely if that is what the Minister intended he should have said that in the first place? And if he really wanted to ensure that nobody would be prosecuted then instead of reducing the penalty from seven years in prison, he could have increased it to the death penalty.

It still seems a bizarre approach when he could have just done nothing and achieved the same end without all the fuss. – Is mise,





Co Cork.

Madam, – Tolerance is a virtue to be celebrated. It gives us liberty to enjoy life, love and laughter, not least in the sphere of religion. We are in danger of being stifled in the vice of any new blasphemy law, whilst compromising ourselves as a liberal democracy. – Yours, etc,




Co Westmeath.