Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Fry Irish blasphemy probe dropped after gardaí fail to find 'substantial number of outraged people'

 'I did my civic duty in reporting it... The guards did their duty in investigating it'

By Cathal McMahon

Gardaí have decided not to proceed with a blasphemy investigation against Stephen Fry after they failed to find a large group of people outraged by comments he made on an RTÉ show.

Detectives spoke to the man who made the original report this evening and confirmed they will not be carrying out further enquiries.

Independent.ie understands that detectives were unable to proceed with the investigation as there was no injured party.

Under the controversial legislation, introduced by then Justice Minister Dermot Ahern in 2009, it is illegal to publish or utter a matter that is "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion".

A well-placed source said: "This man was simply a witness and not an injured party. Gardaí were unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.

"For this reason the investigation has been concluded."

The man told gardaí he was happy that he had done his civic duty by reporting what he believed could be a crime under the current law.

And the man, who made the report to gardaí in Ennis Co, Clare in 2015, confirmed to the detective that he was happy gardaí had investigated the matter in full.

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This evening he told Independent.ie: "I did my civic duty in reporting it. The guards did their duty in investigating it. I am satisfied with the result and I don't want to comment further."

Michael Nugent, Chairperson of Atheist Ireland said the reason for dropping this investigation is "even more dangerous than a prosecution would have been."

"This creates an incentive for people to demonstrate outrage when they see or hear something that they believe is blasphemous.

"It also shows that the police take our blasphemy law seriously, as indeed they should do, regardless of the nod and wink attitude of our legislators."

On Saturday, we revealed that gardaí had launched an investigation into comments made by the actor and writer on RTÉ show ‘The Meaning of Life’ in February 2015.

During the programme, presented by broadcaster Gay Byrne, Mr Fry described God as "capricious", "mean-minded" and "stupid" for allowing so much suffering in the world.

Following the broadcast the man, who asked not to be identified, made a report to Ennis Garda station.

He told gardaí that he had not been personally offended by the show. He added: “I simply believed that the comments made by Fry on RTÉ were criminal blasphemy and that  I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime."

The man, who says he is "not a religious zealot" or member of a political movement, then wrote to Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan in December 2016 to see how the case was proceeding.

In recent weeks he was contacted by a detective from Donnybrook garda station to say they were looking into the report he made about blasphemy on RTÉ.

They spoke to the man over the weekend and contacted him this evening to confirm that the investigation had been concluded.

A garda spokesman said they were not commenting on the status of the investigation.

The revelation has reopened the debate surrounding Ireland’s blasphemy legislation.

Today Health Minister Simon Harris said a referendum should be held to change the constitution’s stance of blasphemy.

"It’s silly. It’s a bit embarrassing. It needs to be changed. I’m very pleased that the Government wishes to see a referendum in relation to this issue. It obviously does require constitutional change," he said.

Mr Harris said the Government has committed to holding a number of referendum during its lifetime and he hopes blasphemy is one of them.

"I’d hope to see it sooner rather than later. This is a democracy. People have the right to express whatever view they do.

"Stephen Fry, regardless of your own religious views, was clearly making a number of points that he clearly felt very strongly about in his usual witty way. I think we do need a referendum," Mr Harris said.

Irish Independent

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