JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern has admitted the offence of blasphemy is an “arcane concept”, but he is pressing ahead with plans to keep it in the law.
Mr Ahern told an Oireachtas committee yesterday that the Constitution stated the publication of blasphemous matter “is an offence which should be punishable in accordance with law”.
“I don’t have – and I don’t believe the Oireachtas has – the luxury of ignoring what is in the Constitution,” Mr Ahern said.
He lashed out at the “hysterical” reaction” to his proposals, saying he had been accused of trying to “curry favour” with religious groups such as Muslims and Catholics.
“I’ve been called a Catholic fundamentalist by someone who I believe has a brain the size of a pea,” he said, in an apparent reference to a Sunday newspaper columnist. “I’ve been accused of being a serial visitor to Rome – I have to admit I am, because I believe Rome is one of the nicest cities in the world.”
Mr Ahern said he went to Rome mainly to see Lazio play Roma in the city’s football derby.
He also denied he or his officials consulted religious organisations before making his proposals.
“I hope that my explanations will help to put at rest the minds of all those fantasy conspiracy theorists that have detected dark machinations and bogey men behind this proposal,” he said.
The blasphemy proposals have arisen out of the Government’s intention to reform the defamation laws. The Defamation Bill, once passed, will repeal previous legislation, including the 1961 Defamation Act, which allows for a person to be imprisoned for up to seven years for blasphemous libel.
Mr Ahern said the preferable solution would be to abolish the offence of blasphemy, but: “We are where we are in relation to what’s in the Constitution.”
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