The Government’s proposed referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution is a “scandalously self-indulgent raid on the public purse”.
During a debate in the Seanad yesterday, Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said he was opposed to the “hypocritical” proposal on several grounds.
He said the referendum could cost the taxpayer between €3m and €4m, adding that it is a time-wasting exercise.
Mr Mullen railed against what he called a liberal elite in the Government, the media, and civic society who are intent on “scratching their God itch”.
Mr Mullen said the speaking out against some religious institutions is the new accepted norm in Ireland, adding that anti-Catholicism is a bizarre version of free speech.
Proposing the referendum, junior justice minister David Stanton said the removal of the blasphemy clause from our Constitution would be a public affirmation of our belief in an inclusive society.
Maintaining the criminal offence of blasphemy in our Constitution, and as a consequence, on our statute book, has more to do with an unnecessary and anachronistic check on freedom of expression than with the protection of religious values, he said.
Indeed, the most recent prosecution for blasphemy in Ireland seems to have taken place in 1855 and that prosecution resulted in the acquittal of the person involved.
Labour senator Ivana Bacik highlighted the threat of a criminal investigation after an appearance of British comedian Stephen Fry on the RTÉ programme The Meaning of Life, in which he lambasted religion and the idea of God.
Ms Bacik said the Stephen Fry episode embarrassed Ireland internationally and our country’s blasphemy laws should be removed.