Amnesty International Ireland welcomed today’s blasphemy referendum Yes vote as significant for freedom of expression in Ireland and around the world. Exit polls suggest that the Irish people have voted by a decisive majority to remove the archaic crime of blasphemy from Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution.
“While we await the final figures from the national wide count, it is clear at this stage that the Yes side have carried the day. Today’s vote is another important step towards a human rights compliant Constitution. It follows the massive support for the constitutional referenda allowing marriage equality and ending the abortion ban. People in Ireland have shown yet again that they value human rights and freedoms,” said Colm O’Gorman, Amnesty International Ireland Executive Director.
“Blasphemy laws like Ireland’s violate freedom of expression. At a time when this freedom is under attack around the world, this referendum matters even more. Now, States like Pakistan can no longer justify their own severe anti-blasphemy laws by pointing to Ireland’s Constitution.
“This referendum outcome does not make people’s freedom of religion or belief less protected. The government must still ensure that everyone can manifest and practise their religion without discrimination or threat. We also need to have robust prohibition of inciting hatred on religious and other grounds, in law and practice.”
Today’s referendum on the Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution was on deleting the wording “blasphemous” from Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution. Article 40.6.1 says that people in Ireland have the right “to freely express their convictions and opinions”. It sets limits on this freedom of expression: “organs of public opinion” cannot be used to “undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State”. It also says that the “utterance or publication of blasphemous … matter” must be a criminal offence. For this reason, the Defamation Act 2009 created the criminal offence of “blasphemy”, with a possible fine of €25,000.
The Law Reform Commission reviewed this constitutional provision in 1991, and concluded that “there is no place for an offence of blasphemous libel in a society which respects freedom of speech”. It recommended that it be deleted from the Constitution. So too did the Constitution Review Group in 1996, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in 2008, the Constitutional Convention in 2013, and the UN Human Rights Committee in 2015.