It appears that blasphemy is currently an offense in Ireland, even though the last known prosecution was in 1855 and the last conviction was in 1703 when a Unitarian pastor was fined £1,000 and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for publishing a book that argued that Jesus was not equal with God the Father.
The Irish constitution says the publication or utterance of “blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”.
Assistant professor of law at Trinity College Dublin, David Kenny explains that although blasphemy was constitutionally illegal since 1937, only since the 2009 Defamation Act was blasphemy defined in law.
To be convicted of blasphemy, the court must prove that what is said or published is grossly abusive or insulting, causing outrage to a religion and that the person or publisher intended to cause outrage.
If found guilty, you could face a €25,000 fine. (£22k)
Under the 1937 constitution of Ireland, “the publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” was punishable by law but it took the 2009 law to codify it.
There will be a referendum on October 26 on whether to remove this offense from the constitution. Polls say that 51% of the population will vote ‘yes’ on removing the offense from the constitution, though the issue has not sparked anywhere near the passions as the referenda on legalizing same-sex marriage and abortion.
The only attempted prosecution since the creation of the state was in the late 1990s when a carpenter called John Corway attempted to sue three publications for articles and cartoons relating to the 1995 divorce referendum. He was unsuccessful.
The laws around blasphemy were brought back to public attention in in 2017 after it emerged police were looking into comments made by Stephen Fry on an RTE programme. In a discussion about religion, the writer and broadcaster asked presenter Gay Byrne, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain.”
Police later dropped the matter, stating they were “unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.”
Most people likely think it is a silly law.