Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Blasphemy law removal considered

Convention on the Constitution chairman Tom Arnold said there has been much discussion in recent years about the place of the offence of blasphemy

Removing the offence of blasphemy from Irish law will be discussed by the Convention on the Constitution this weekend.

Academics and legal experts will give presentations at the two day event, with members of Atheist Ireland, the Humanist Association of Ireland, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland due to give their views.

The Convention will then make a recommendation to Government, which will have four months to respond with a debate in the Oireachtas.

If it agrees to amend the Constitution, it must also include a timeframe for a referendum.

Tom Arnold, chairman, said there has been much discussion in recent years about the place of the offence of blasphemy in the Irish Constitution.

"The strong level of public interest in the subject is evident from the high number of submissions that we received through the website and also from those members of the public that have raised it at our regional meetings," he said.

"This weekend, the convention will have the opportunity to debate the place of blasphemy in our constitution."

The Defamation Bill 2006 - signed into law in July 2009 - introduced a number of major reforms including giving greater definition to criminal offence of blasphemy.

A person found guilty of publishing or uttering "blasphemous matters" can be fined, on indictment, a maxium 25,000 euro. They include anything that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion.

Mr Arnold said varying viewpoints which we will hear on the subject over the weekend ranging from the need to protect religious sensitivities to increasing freedom of speech.

"We intend to listen to these arguments over the weekend in balanced and fair manner, and then make a formal recommendation," he added.

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