Ahern denies ‘criminalising blasphemy’

JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern has said he is not trying to create a new law to criminalise blasphemy in new proposals he believes will clear up rules already on the books.

Mr Ahern has tabled an amendment to the Defamation Bill 2006, which defines blasphemy and threatens fines of €100,000 for those who commit it.

This will hit a person who intentionally produces material “grossly abusive” to anything held sacred by any religion.

However, a spokes-man for the minister said he was merely acting on the advice his department received from successive attorneys general and was solving a long-standing legal problem. This was because the Constitution already demands that there be a law against blasphemy. Article 40 says either publishing or speaking in a blasphemous way would be an offence.

While the 1961 Defamation Bill included a provision to jail those who committed blasphemy, this was compromised by a Supreme Court ruling in 1999 which said it was impossible to define what the offence was. This effectively meant that without a definition no charges could stand up.

Mr Ahern’s spokesman said: “This is the elephant in the room, because it has to be sorted out one way or another. The people could decide to change the Constitution by way of Referendum, but without that there has to be some law.

“The minister has been given advice that this has to be addressed . . . [besides] with this amendment you cannot be jailed for the charge,” he said.

The amendment will leave it at the discretion of the Director of Public Prosecutions whether or not to press charges.

The amendment was due to be debated by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice yesterday evening, but the meeting broke up before it was reached.

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