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Minister Flanagan announces commencement of the Blasphemy (Abolition) Act 2019

  • Act abolishes the offence of blasphemy
  • Gives further effect to the Constitutional referendum in October 2018

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, has today announced the commencement of the Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Act 2019.

The Act was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before the Christmas recess, and was signed by the President on 21 December.

Welcoming its passage and enactment, 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.

Referring to the symbolic importance of the Act, despite it being a short technical piece of legislation, the Minister said:

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. Ireland is a country of increasing diversity. The right to express differing viewpoints in a forthright and critical manner is a right to be cherished and upheld. With this Act we have also removed all identified references to blasphemy from the Statute Book, including those in the Censorship of Films Acts.

The Minister continued:

I would like to emphasise that these changes are not an attack on religious beliefs. Nor are they  intended to privilege one set of values over another. 

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 out dated concepts.