Make blasphemy a referendum issue

The Seanad should take careful note of what has been said by a representative of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in relation to adding blasphemy to the Defamation Bill. His comments were reported in yesterday’s newspapers. I ask the House and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consider a proposal I would like to make. According to the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, he needs to resolve a constitutional dilemma in this area by means of legislation or by means of a constitutional amendment. I am a member of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution which recently recommended that the relevant section of the Constitution should be deleted.

Senator Regan is also a member of the all-party committee, which clearly recommended that this provision should be removed from the Constitution. That view is clearly shared across the board in these Houses. That is the correct way to proceed.

My suggestion to the Minister, through the Leader, is that if the parties in the Oireachtas agree that a series of amendments to the Constitution should be put to the people at an appropriate time, perhaps, although not necessarily, in October of this year, a referendum on the question of blasphemy should be put on that list of matters to be determined by the people on referendum day.

It would be proper to remove the provision in question from the Constitution. If the Minister’s comments are to be taken in good faith, it appears he believes he must do one thing or the other. He seems to be concerned about the possibility of addressing this issue by means of a constitutional amendment. We do not need to have a referendum on this issue tomorrow or the day after. It does not even need to take place this year, although it should not be put on the long finger.

In fairness, this matter has been on the table for ten years. We have lived with other interpretations of the Constitution. We have not rushed to introduce legislation to cater for the outcome of the X case, for example, although I believe we should have done so. In such circumstances, I propose that the Leader of the Seanad should try to secure all-party agreement to ask the Minister to address the matter of blasphemy by means of constitutional amendment at an appropriate time in the future. We should not have to deal with the legislative distraction the Minister is considering.

More :: Listen to the interview with Justice Minister Dermot Ahern on Morning Ireland (begins at 8mins 15secs)