Ireland set to vote on blasphemy in upcoming referendum

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October 26 has been chosen as the date of a referendum on removing the offence of blasphemy from Ireland's constitution.

At present, Article 40.6.1° of Ireland's constitution states: 'The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.'

The lower house of Ireland's parliament, the Dáil, passed on Tuesday a proposal by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to hold a referendum on removing the offence on October 26, the same day as the Presidential election.

He argued that so long as the offence was retained in the constitution, Ireland would be seen by the rest of the world 'a country which keeps company with those who do not share the fundamental values we cherish such as belief in freedom of conscience and expression'. 

Fianna Fáil spokesman Jim O'Callaghan agreed that the constitution 'needs to be updated and modernised'.

The crime of blasphemy in Ireland carries a maximum penalty of a fine of €25,000. 

British comedian Stephen Fry was the subject of an Irish blasphemy probe last year after a viewer complained about comments he made on TV show 'The Meaning of Life', hosted by Gay Byrne, in 2015.

On the show, he had been asked what he might say to God if he came face to face with Him in Heaven.

He said: 'How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It's not our fault? It's not right. It's utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?'

The investigation was later dropped.

Mr Flanagan said that although the issue might seem small, it was important for democracy.

'I believe it's timely that we affirm our belief in a more inclusive society where communication between those of different belief systems can take place on an equal basis with tolerance and respect as guiding principles,' he said

'I acknowledge that removal of the offence from our Constitution is, on the face of it, a relatively small thing.

'Nonetheless, I believe it's deeply symbolic in a very tangible way and it would confirm our status as a modern, democratic society.