Referendum on blasphemy proposed for Autumn 2010

Atheist Ireland welcomes the statement from Dermot Ahern, the Irish Justice Minister, that he is proposing a referendum this Autumn to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.

The Minister has told the Sunday Times that “I was only doing my duty” in bringing in the new blasphemy law, and that “there was an incredibly sophisticated campaign [against me], mainly on the internet.”

Atheist Ireland thanks everyone who has helped to make the campaign against this new law as effective as it has been to date. It is now important we maintain the pressure on this issue to ensure that the referendum happens as proposed and, more importantly, that it is won.

We reiterate our position that this law is both silly and dangerous: silly because it is introducing medieval canon law offence into a modern plularist republic; and dangerous because it incentives religious outrage and because its wording has already been adopted by Islamic States as part of their campaign to make blasphemy a crime internationally.

The following is the text of the article in today’s Sunday Times:

Ahern proposes a referendum on scrapping blasphemy law

Dermot Ahern, the justice minister, is proposing that a vote to remove the criminal offence of blasphemy be held as part of a planned series of referendums this autumn, writes Stephen O’Brien.

Ahern, who was criticised for increasing the fine for blasphemy to €25,000 last year, said he never regarded the provision in the new Defamation Bill as anything more than a short-term solution.

“There was a lot of nonsense about that blasphemy issue and people making me out to be a complete right-winger at the time,” he said. “There was an incredibly sophisticated campaign [against me], mainly on the internet. I was only doing my duty in relation to it, because clearly it is in the constitution. The attorney general said ‘there is this absolute, mandatory thing… it is an offence, punishable by law.”

A final decision on a blasphemy referendum rests with the cabinet, but if Ahern remains justice minister after this month’s reshuffle, he is likely to propose that it be added to the autumn list. The government is already committed to referendums on children’s rights and establishing a permanent court of civil appeal.

The plebiscites are expected to take place in October, on the same day as the a vote for a new directly elected mayor of Dublin, and three Dail by-elections in Donegal South-West, Dublin South and Waterford.

“I said [last year] that I didn’t want a wasteful standalone referendum on blasphemy in the middle of an economic crisis,” said Ahern. “My preference was to reform [the blasphemy provision] in the short term and to have a referendum in the medium term when it could be bundled with a number of others.”

A defamation bill was already in preparation when Ahern became justice minister in May 2008.

Ahern then said he had three options: to abandon the bill; to hold a single-issue referendum to remove the constitutional reference to blasphemy; or to update the references in the 1961 Defamation Act.

Opting for reform, he said he had removed the seven-year jail sentence from the old legislation.

“Minister Dermot Ahern speaking at the launch of the Victims Charter Tuesday 20th July 2010” by is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Atheist Ireland


  1. Avatar
    Conor March 14, 2010

    I don’t believe that he originally wanted “to have a referendum in the medium term when it could be bundled with a number of others”.

    I believe when the consequences of his numskull action was shown by the adoption of Pakistan of his wording it left our Government in the position of supporting Pakistan in the UN or voting against their own wording and making Ahearn et al the laughing stock of the western world. I am betting a lot of international pressure was also put on him.

    He needs a way out and this is it.

  2. Avatar
    Eamonn March 14, 2010

    Nonsense. He could have held the vote at the same time as the Lisbon Treaty vote. I think he underestimated how much resistance there would be to this.

  3. Avatar
    Tom K March 14, 2010

    This has blown me back, what a supprise, even more; from Opponents of the B-Law being discribed as “a Crackpot living in an attic” by a spokesperson for Justice to “incredibly sophisticated campaign”

    So does this mean the COD “Church of Dermotology” is going to fall or an appreciation soc. Two videos of Senator Ivana Bacik will be on the Atheist Ireland Youtube channel, that dicusses the Blasphemy Law (bty with excellent audio).

    The next few weeks we will have to step up the campaign, surely it will be covered on the radio. I wonder what stance Coir will take?

    If he is amending the constitution, can we get the proabition on alcohol on Good Friday also removed?

  4. Avatar
    Tom K March 14, 2010

    Appologies: I don’t know if the “proabition on alcohol on Good Friday” is in the constitution, or just a Law.

  5. Avatar
    DavidMWW March 14, 2010

    Congratulations to all involved in this campaign. Defiance and ridicule win the day!

  6. Avatar
    Sarah March 15, 2010

    What a pile of crap. Why not abandon the bill if he planned to remove blasphemy from the constitution a few months later? Dermot just didn’t anticipate the enormous media coverage and the backlash from the EU. He might have mentioned his intention to hold a referendum months ago to halt the “incredibly sophisticated campaign”, and give himself a break. Now he’s trying to put a spin on the fact that he is backtracking. Seriously Dermot, the “this was my plan all along” story isn’t fooling anyone.

  7. Avatar
    Johan de Haan March 15, 2010

    Firstly, I wish to express my deep respect for those involved in the campaign. The developments concerning the blashemy laws in your country has taken it back centuries, and if these provisions are maintained it would have constituted a disasterous precendent for secular principles and the seperation of church and state, not just for Ireland but for the entire European community.

    Whilst we have no way of knowing what the outcome of a referendum will be, and due consideration must be given for the centuries of religious oppression and indoctrination to which Ireland has been the subject for countless centuries, one can only hope that free-thought, common sense and a respect for human rights prevails over the bronze age, theocratic idiocy that gave rise to this dark legislation to begin with.

    Now, as ever before the debilitating influence of primitive mysticism throws a dark and ominous shadow over secular democratic principles and indeed freethinkers and sceptics everwhere. All the more motivation for all of us to insist on the freedom of thought, the freedom of expression and a world wiped clean of the stain of religious oppression.

    I salute you and hope that the Irish population will do the same come referendum time.

  8. Avatar
    LOULOU March 16, 2010

    Irlande are doing a awfulll treatment to liberty and for some reason i think they can not run this governement, you guys need to take off these morrons that votes for that stupid law !!!!!!!!! This is ridiculus ! Now religion dont have the thruth ! nobody have and we should be allowed to criticism those religion. Now to me they let reliigon into the governement rules the people, and that is wrong !!!!!! OUT !!!!!!!! NOW !

  9. Avatar
    Patrick March 16, 2010

    I wonder is it atheism that makes people become consumed with hatred, anger and intolerance? Or are people with those tendencies drawn towards atheism? At any rate, I doubt if there is a more ferocious, bigoted, intolerant, hate-spewing, group of fanatics anywhere in the world than the Irish Atheist Movement. At least English atheists, like nice Mr. Dawkins seem quite pleasant about it, and one can imagine having a good-natured debate with him about the existence or non-existence of God. I guess the Irish lot have to compensate for their lack of numbers. Might I suggest that they all go to Church (whatever denomination) tomorrow and celebrate St. Patrick, the man who brought Christianity to Ireland. That should calm them down and bring them some badly-needed serenity and contentment. St. Patrick, of course, was 1600 years ago. So, you can see that Ireland has been a Christian country for a very long time. And, guess what, it will remain a Christian country for a long time. Nothing that a few hundred atheist fanatics can do about it. Sorry. God Bless You and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

  10. Avatar
    Tony Allwright March 16, 2010

    Ahern is a clown, as both his infantile blasphemy law, and his puerile reasoning for holding a blasphemy refendum, amply illustrate. He should have remained in his canoe.

  11. Avatar
    Eupraxsopher March 16, 2010

    It’d be better for the whole world if he just admitted they’d made a huge, dumb-assed mistake. He’d look better too.

  12. Avatar
    BipedalHumanoid March 16, 2010

    @Patrick It’s nice to see we have your back so firmly planted against the wall that you can be provoked into making such an ironic and hypocritical statement.

  13. Avatar
    nozzferrahhtoo March 17, 2010

    @Patrick. Well done for proving the fact that people without a point to make would rather spew out hate and insults, than just say nothing.

  14. Avatar
    Pat March 18, 2010

    @Patrick What an appalling pile of hate filled gibberish. It wasn’t atheist movements who raped kids and covered it all up. It is your religion that is the ‘ferocious, bigoted, intolerant, hate-spewing, group of fanatics’ But, ignorance is bliss, for sure.

  15. Avatar
    Frank Biggar March 22, 2010

    As someone who sees himself as some sort of agnostic but who doesn’t normally see himself as an atheist (though I don’t want to get bogged down here in pointless arguments about the ‘true’ meanings of words like atheist, agnostic, belief, God, gods, etc), I suppose I should congratulate Atheism Ireland on the brilliant way they have used the blasphemy law to promote themselves.

    But I fail to see any reason for atheists or agnostics to be happy about the ‘success’ in getting the referendum requested by Atheism Ireland (assuming that we do in fact get it), in the absence of any evidence that the outcome is likely to be favorable (and a great deal of evidence, admittedly not yet conclusive, suggesting the exact opposite). Until I see some evidence to the contrary, I think there’s every reason to fear that the real purpose of the proposed referendum is to copperfasten the law through the backing of a popular vote, as well as to make it much more difficult in practice for people such as moderate liberals in the DPP’s office to turn a blind eye to future breaches of the law.

  16. Avatar
    Frank Biggar March 22, 2010

    As a postscript to my previous posting, let me point out that there are any number of entirely harmless ways that the law could be made to comply with the Constitutional requirement that blasphemy be punishable by law without the need for a referendum that will probably merely copperfasten the current blasphemy law.

    Here’s one example of such a harmless law:
    Article 1. The offense of blasphemous libel is hereby abolished.

    Article 2. After a prosecution initiated by the DPP, and conviction by a unanimous jury, blasphemy shall be punishable, so long as the Constitution requires such punishment, by a fine not exceeding 25 euro.

    Article 3. Blasphemy shall consist of provably offending a provably good and true and all-powerful God, by publicly insulting the afore-mentioned God (also known as ‘taking His name in vain’).

    Article 4. For the purposes of article 3 above, ‘provably’ shall have the following meaning:
    4.1 The all-powerful God will descend in a flaming chariot into Dail Eireann during a televised session when at least 140 Deputies are in attendance, and publicly declare Himself to have been offended by the blasphemous utterances of one or more named individuals. The attending Deputies will confirm unanimously by both public and secret ballot that they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that there is no possibility of the aforementioned events being the result of trickery by a being or beings who are not a good and true and all-powerful God.
    4.2 The all-powerful God will then, within less than a week, also descend in a flaming chariot into a live television transmission of RTE’s Late Late Show when at least 100 audience members are in attendance, and publicly declare Himself to have been offended by the blasphemous utterances of the same named individual or individuals. The attending audience members will confirm unanimously by both public and secret ballot that they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that there is no possibility of the aforementioned events being the result of trickery by a being or beings who are not a good and true and all-powerful God.

    Article 5. No prosecution for blasphemy shall be initiated prior to the availability of proof, as defined in article 4 above.

    Article 6. For the purposes of this law, any alleged God who fails to supply proof as defined in article 4 above, shall be presumed to be either insufficently offended to be the victim of blasphemy, or insufficiently powerful to qualify as a true all-powerful God, and thus ineligible to be considered a victim of blasphemy.

  17. Avatar
    Frank Biggar March 22, 2010

    I suppose I should perhaps have added that the above sample law’s definiton of blasphemy is genuinely infinitely closer to what most people have traditionally understood blasphemy to mean (including those who voted for the 1937 Constitution) than the nonsense in Dermot Ahern’s definition (which would have amazed those who voted for the 1937 Constitution).

  18. Avatar
    patrick h March 23, 2010

    Nobody should mind sincere unkind criticism of any religion it shows interest but ridicule for its own sake is anti social and can lead to murder and mayhem.There are sad people who want to get rid of religion altogether.Religion is a good subject but the popular versions of everything don’t amount to much.Many people around the world have little else.Leave them alone and Atheism has’nt been proven either.

  19. Avatar
    colin March 23, 2010

    @ PATRICK your present pope ratzinger was for 20 years in charge of the “Crimen Sollicitationis”‘ a secret ordering bishops to swear the victims of peodophiles to secrecy and move the offending priest on to another parish. This of course meant they raped more children there, and on and on, in parish after parish. Yes, these were different times, but the Vatican knew then that what it was doing was terribly wrong: that’s why it was done in the utmost secrecy.
    Father Tarcisio Spricigo was first accused of child abuse in 1991, in Brazil. He was moved by the Vatican four times, wrecking the lives of children at every stop. He was only caught in 2005 by the police, before he could be moved on once more. He had written in his diary about the kind of victims he sought: “Age: 7, 8, 9, 10. Social condition: Poor. Family condition: preferably a son without a father. How to attract them: guitar lessons, choir, altar boy.”
    YES indeed im so proud of ur name sakes importation of such a vile, evil monster that u so happily proclaim
    You sould be ashamed….
    god bless u indeed…..

  20. Avatar
    colin March 23, 2010

    Not once was there ever a metion from the vatican to help the victims The only thing it does say is they can impose fear on the victims, and punish them, for disclosing what happened .
    Imagine if this happened at your workplace. Imagine you discovered there was a paedophile ring running your crèche, and your boss issued a stern order that it should be investigated internally with “the strictest secrecy”. Imagine he merely shuffled the paedophiles to work in another crèche at another workplace, and you agreed, and made the kids sign a pledge of secrecy. You would both – rightly – go to prison. Yet because the word “religion” is whispered, the rules change. Suddenly, otherwise good people who wouldn’t dream of covering up a paedophile ring in their workplace think it would be an insult to them to follow one wherever it leads in their Church. They would find this behaviour unthinkable without the irrational barrier of faith standing between them and reality.

    Yes, I understand some people feel sad when they see a figure they were taught as a child to revere – whether Prophet or Pope – being subjected to rational examination, or mockery, or criminal investigation. But everyone has ideas they hold precious. Only you, the religious, demand to be protected from debate or scrutiny that might discomfort you. The fact you believe an invisible supernatural being approves of – or even commands – your behaviour doesn’t mean it deserves more respect, or sensitive handling. It means it deserves less.

    If you base your behaviour on such a preposterous fantasy, you should expect to be checked by criticism and mockery. You need it.

    If you can’t bear to hear your religious figures criticised – if you think Ratzinger is somehow above the law, or Mohamed should be defended with an axe – a sane society should have only one sentence for you. Tell it to the judge.

  21. Avatar
    colin March 23, 2010

    @ patrick
    At the time when saint patrick brought christianity to ireland christians themselves were considered atheists by the romans and had been for four hundred years…
    Christians were the original atheists….

  22. Avatar
    Demonhype March 28, 2010

    BWAHH!!! You mean ol’ bigoted hateful atheists! All we want is a law that any criticism of our all-powerful imaginary friend who lives in the sky should be silenced and any such open criticism properly punished–as the APIFWLITS has no ability to do so for Himself!!!1! All we want is a return to the glory days of the Inquisition, when the hurt feelings of the religious were properly paid for in blood!!!! BWAHHH!! How miserable and evil-minded you atheists must be to oppose our efforts to return to the Golden Age of medieval Europe, when unbelievers got the punishments they deserved for not towing the Jesus line! How hateful and bigoted you atheists must be to not want to bare your shoulders for your well-earned floggings!!!! BWAHHH!!!! Maybe if you returned to the Holy Mother Child-Raping Church, you’d learn a little morality and serenity and see how truly Good our Laws are!!!!!11!!!!!! *sniffle…sniffle…..SOB*

    Well, anyway, this is a Kompletely Kristian Kountry, and if you don’t want to return to the Church, we’ll find ways to MAKE you return to the Church! This is only the beginning…only the beginning….only the beginning…..

    It’s interesting to see that we in America are not the only ones so blessed with over-Christianized wingnut zealots living in their own magical fantasyland devoid of facts. Depressing…but interesting.

  23. Avatar
    Mary October 10, 2010

    Where is the promised referendum?

    What has happened to the supposed movement against this shameful blasphemy law?

    Why are you all so quiet?