Mixed messages from ministers on holding of blasphemy referendum

Government ministers are continuing to provide contradictory views on whether a referendum on blasphemy will take place this year in light of the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

On Friday, junior minister for equality and Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said his “expectation” was that the referendum would be fast- tracked for the second half of 2015.

However, at a memorial service in Dublin Castle for the 10 journalists and two police officers who lost their lives in the attack, his party’s leader and a senior Fine Gael minister played down the prominence of the vote.

Speaking at the event on Saturday, a spokesperson for Tánaiste Joan Burton said the Labour leader was “of the long-standing view that the offence of blasphemy should be removed from the Constitution”.

“The Government will decide on a date in due course, but the immediate focus will be on campaigning for and winning the marriage equality referendum in May,” the spokesperson said.

Justice Minister and Fine Gael TD Frances Fitzgerald also said it is unlikely the vote will take place in 2015.

“The Government has taken a decision to hold a referendum, but no date has been agreed,” she said.

Reports yesterday suggested the reason for the reluctance to run a referendum in the second half of the year is due to the close proximity of the general election, which must take place by May 2016.

However, on Friday, Mr Ó Ríordáin said the referendum should be fast-tracked.

“It would seem strange to have all these decisions made by the constitutional convention and not have a referendum,” he said.

Speaking at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS in Dublin on Thursday, agriculture minister Simon Coveney vouched his support for the removal of blasphemy as a crime, but said the technical issues involved are complicated and unlikely to happen overnight. “Having blasphemy in the constitution is inappropriate, but changing the Constitution is always complex,” he said.

The issue returned to prominence after the shootings in Paris last week.

The cleric of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, west Dublin, has increased pressure for the issue to be resolved by saying he wold take legal advice if any media outlet reprinted the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed.

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