Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill


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Crime of blasphemous libel proposed for Defamation Bill

The John Waterisation of Irish legislation is complete:

“Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them.

Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte is proposing an amendment to this section which would reduce the maximum fine to €1,000 and exclude from the definition of blasphemy any matter that had any literary, artistic, social or academic merit.”

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Donagh is the editor of Irish Left Review. Contact Donagh through email:

10 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    April 30, 2009 9:26 am

    I’m actually a little surprised that Labour aren’t completely against this. Can’t say I’m surprised it was Dermot Ahern who introduced it though – must be his conservative catholic sensibilities rearing their ugly heads again.

    I’ll have to careful not to say things like that if that amendment gets past lest I be fined 100grand for the pleasure of saying it….

  2. donagh

    April 30, 2009 10:42 am

    Despite all the caveats to artistic uses etc it means that Rabbitte, and Labour are accepting it in principle. This is just wrong, especially as we’ve already had Ruari Quinn arguing that we must protect our ‘Christian’ society from those ‘other’ religions.

    “If people want to come into a western society that is Christian and secular, they need to conform to the rules and regulations of that country. Nobody is formally asking them to come here.


    Why was there a need to move something that was already in the constitution into a fully fledged law? Simple reason, because as it stood in the constitution there was already a court decision which said that it shouldn’t be applied. A sop to the Catholic Church?

    As it’s a form of prohibition I imagine that ‘speak easys’ will be set up all over the place once it becomes law. You call at an innocuous basement door. The slide comes aside and once you give the password you are let in. Inside is a roomful of irreverent types shout ‘Christ on bike’ at the top of their voice. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t think of anything particularly blasphemous – if anyone has any ideas please add them on)

  3. Stephanie

    April 30, 2009 11:20 am

    I totally agree. The thing about caveats for art, is that “art” is totally subjective. I mean do we really want a legal definition of what “art” is? Because I think that would be an inevitable outcome in any legal action based on this. Unless of course, we already have a legal definition of art then – apologies. But seriously though, if I throw an empty crisp packet on the ground, it’s rubbish. If Tracey Emin does it, it’s (arguably) art. A social commentary on throw-away culture in society if you will! The whole thing seems totally nonsensical.
    I really fail to see why Quinn and Labour feel the need to pander to the Church. For me it doesn’t make sense. Unless this is on some level method of trying to bring disillusioned old-guard FF voters on board? I can understand when there are debates around the burqa etc., but the hijab??? And how are they going to balance this against the point that this blasphemous libel will be applicable to *any* religion? I mean alot of Muslims would find the idea that the Jesus was the son of God to be pretty offensive……are we going to start compelling Muslim children to eat during Ramadan because others find the idea of kids fasting to be particularly abhorrent?
    By the way, when the “speak-easys” are established, I’m going to bring along a portable DVD player and show the Life of Brian over and over again and make giant clay Buddy Jesus statues for every town in a 50 mile radius….

  4. Donagh

    April 30, 2009 1:32 pm

    No doubt we’ll have one of those sophisticated trials like the Lady Chatterley’s Lover one in the 60s. Irish professors of English Literature will be delighted at being called as expert witnesses. Either that or they’ll set up ‘expert’ committees.

    There’s a great article on this from Carol Coulter today. She starts with the example of those masked protestors who gather outside the Church of Scientology on Abbey Street and while anti-religion activists are almost as annoying as cultish fundamentalists they shouldn’t be mauled by the law for protesting, never mind having a 100,000 euro slapped on them. But she ends with a quote from Michael Martin who was asked last month about why the government voted against a recent resolution on “combating defamation of religion” at the UN:

    “We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.”

    Yet the blasphemous libel addition to the Defamation Bill enshrines the concept of defamation of religion into Irish law! Ahern, hiding behind the Attorney General is doing it to appease someone, and yea, opposition parties aren’t interested in fighting it (or simply don’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest —boo!). Even in Coulter’s piece she says that there is no appetite to go for a referendum to delete references to sedition and blasphemy in the Constitution (as recommended in 91 by the Irish Law Reform Commission and the net result of the ’99 Corway -v- Independent Newspapers Supreme Court ruling. What, is there an unpublished MRBI poll that says so?

    I’m going to bring along a portable DVD player and show the Life of Brian over and over again
    …sure, drive up the suicide rate amongst committed secularists, why don’t you ;-)

  5. Stephanie

    April 30, 2009 2:04 pm

    Yeah I saw Coulter’s piece this morning. Really though – who are they trying to appease? I mean, Dermot Ahern is an out and out homophobic bigot at the best of times. Does he really need to be appeasing someone to propose something like this?

    It’s a shame the opposition don’t have the stomach to stand up to it though…..and now we’ll get to join Egypt and Pakistan in having actual blasphemy laws.

  6. Donagh

    April 30, 2009 2:45 pm

    On CLR Wednesday suggested that it might be an attempt to appease other ultra conservatives within FF – and elsewhere – who have a big problem with the civil partnership bill. If that is the case then they might think that if CP is passed they would have leeway to clamp down on the newly legal ‘civil marraige’ ceremonies as offensive to their religion.

    That is just bonkers….but par for the course when it comes to this government’s thinking.

    Spot on regarding the company we would be keeping. Just as the economy tanks we get to move in to the social equivalent of the dark ages.

  7. Robert Browne

    May 8, 2009 3:33 pm

    I read yesterday that 2 people had been stoned to death in Iran. That the Koran says that women are to be buried up to their chest and males up to their waist. Rocks are not allowed that would kill too quickly. Is it blasphemous to remind the world of these sick practises? Is it blasphemous if Muslims call for the execution of non believers, like myself? Will our government defend our right to free speech which often only amounts to iterating the tribal and nonsensical jibberish which spews from the very, very religious aspirants or adherants of these “faiths”.

    This is an attack on the citizens of Ireland coming from a government which has lost the moral right to govern and which has led the country into a quagmire of grotesque proportions. Is this just a typical Fianna Fail diversionary or wind up effort or are they really serious about this nonsense?

  8. Michael Martin

    May 11, 2009 9:46 am

    I would like to comment if only to ask people to work to stop Justice Minister Dermot Aherns’s reactionary proposed legislation that would make the notion of Blasphemous Libel a criminal offence.

    I am making this earnest request as an atheist. As such, I am a person who is secure in the knowledge that the rational by which I live my life, and the scientific knowledge that underpins my values and beliefs, will when publicly expressed by me, almost certainly be deemed by someone to be deeply offensive. This will put me firmly in the category of suspected criminal.

    The right to freedom of speech is an absolute essential in a free and healthy Democracy. I cannot accept that there can be any “sacred” areas where the right to freedom of speech is to be curtailed and diminished. A limited Freedom of Speech is no freedom at all but a mockery, for it puts one person above that of another.

    I gave up all belief in things superstitious and irrational as a young man. I wish to express to you my horror at the idea that someone who still adheres to beliefs which are utterly unverifiable, utterly untestable and which constitute an assault on my critical faculties, can use these “personal beliefs” as a basis to make me a criminal for expressing mine.

    This is especially so because I base my ideas on the rational, on facts which are verifiable, testable and which in the light of future knowledge can be amended to encompass a greater understanding of life. No religious belief will ever entertain this principle and nor can it, for I believe that greater understanding and knowledge is the death knell of superstition.

    As a consequence I fear that this proposed legislation will in time and very soon at that, make criminals of those of us who seek to defend the rational against the irrational. There is nothing surer. I am deeply saddened that the Labour Party are not totally against this dangerous Fianna Fail proposal. What are they afraid of?

  9. Donagh

    May 11, 2009 2:38 pm

    You are right Michael, what this piece of legislation does is to provide the offended group with the means to determine what is offensive to them. All the state claims to require is a record of their ‘outrage’ and that the number of people outraged is ‘substantial’. How either of these (outrage and substantial number) are determined is anyone’s guess. That a government could introduce such powerful legislation which effectively hands the cudgels of the state over to adherents of a particular ‘religion’ to allow them to suppress opinion which differs from theirs is simply mind boggling.

    Does the outrage of a substantial number of citizens as witnessed by the protests and reaction to the October budget mean that the opinions of government ministers calling for tax increases and cuts in living standards need to be suppressed?

    I think Hugh Green has nailed it on the head when he says that this is an authoritarian maneuver designed to control all forms of opinion that might deviate from the norm during a recession. We all must work together, as one ministerial briefing put it recently, and if you disagree then you’re for the chop. Keep in line, keep your head down, do what we say.

    “One of the features of the last ten years of relative prosperity in Ireland was the fact that the particulars of religious belief did not matter. Low unemployment levels meant that people were, more than ever, ‘independent of the good will of other people’ with regard to the ‘means of earning their bread’. But in situation where public expenditures are collapsing as unemployment spirals, all manner of informal alliances proliferate as basic welfare gets positioned as a matter of privilege instead of entitlement, and getting a job becomes more a matter of who you know than what you know.

    In a country where the Angelus bells still toll on the national broadcaster, where the constitution acknowledges ‘all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ’, where judges are ’sustained and directed by God’, where religious orders still exercise huge power in the education system, a person may yet end up attending church once again not to save her soul, but to save her bacon. And prohibitions on blasphemy will make sure she is not inclined to think about raising her voice in protest.”

  10. Sandra

    May 20, 2009 12:15 am

    Help spread the word about protest against this bill which is being debated again today (20th) by the all party committee in the oireachtas.

    DATE: MONDAY 25th MAY TIME: 8-10pm

    The Dublin meeting is the second of several to be held around the country, organised by Atheist Ireland, an advocacy group for an ethical and secular Ireland. Speakers will include:
    Michael Nugent, chair of Atheist Ireland and co-author of the play I Keano
    Ian O’Doherty, columnist with Independent newspapers
    Dick Spicer, chair of the Humanist Association of Ireland
    Other speakers to be confirmed.
    Local politicians will be invited.

    For further information see the campaign website at