The Minister said: “This act abolishes the offence of blasphemy, and reflects the outcome of last year’s referendum in which the people approved removing the Constitutional requirement that blasphemy be a criminal offence, by a majority in each of the 40 constituencies, and by 64.85 per cent of voters nationally.”
He said that the very notion of criminalising blasphemy, with the risk of a chilling effect on free expression and public debate, has no place in the Constitution or the laws of a modern republic.
He said the right to express differing viewpoints in a forthright and critical manner is a right to be cherished and upheld.
The minister continued: “The new act is a simple acknowledgement that the meaning of the concept of blasphemy is unclear in a modern state, and that the concept is rooted in a distant past where fealty to the state was conflated with fealty to a particular religion.”
In reference to its international dimension, the minister concluded:
“It may seem abstract to devote time to abolishing an offence which has not been prosecuted in practice. But it must be remembered that a number of countries still actively prosecute charges of blasphemy.
“Those charges can carry severe penalties, including terms of imprisonment, brutal physical punishments, and even the death penalty. They have also been applied in a discriminatory manner to justify the persecution of dissidents, the socially excluded, or religious minorities.
“Such countries justify those regimes by referring to the continuance of blasphemy as a criminal offence in Ireland. That has always been a very disturbing reality. This act not only addresses the situation, but ensures that Ireland should never again be cited as an exemplar of such outdated concepts.”
The act also amends the Censorship of Films Acts, to remove ‘blasphemous’ content as a ground for refusing or restricting the public showing, or advertising of, a film.
The Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Act 2019 contains the following provisions:
- Section 1 – an avoidance-of-doubt provision, which makes it clear that the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel no longer exist,
- Section 2 – provides for the deletion of the reference to ‘blasphemous’ in section 7 of the Censorship of Films Act 1923,
- Section 3 – removes the reference to ‘blasphemous’ in section 3(2) of the Censorship of Films (Amendment) Act 1925,
- Section 4 – abolishes the statutory offence of blasphemy, and a related provision for the Gardaí to seize copies of material held to be blasphemous, by providing for the repeal of sections 36 and 37 of the Defamation Act 2009,
- Section 5 – is a standard citation and commencement provision.