Mairead McGuinness, MEP for the Galway area and first Vice-President responsible for the European Parliament’s relations with churches, religions and non-confessional organisations, has welcomed the decision by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to bring to Government today plans to hold a referendum on the blasphemy clause in the Irish Constitution.
Speaking yesterday she said that its very existence on the statute books weakens Irish and EU ability to give leadership on promoting freedom of religion or belief worldwide.
“My work in the area of international religious freedom led me a year ago to call for a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from Bunreacht na h-Éireann, thereby allowing blasphemy to be de-criminalised in Ireland,” she said.
“While there is no real risk of any Irish citizen being prosecuted under the law, its very existence on the statute books weakens Irish and EU ability to give leadership on promoting freedom of religion or belief worldwide,” she said.
“The EU has sought to lead in this area, adopting EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2013 and appointing an EU Special Envoy in 2016. When EU diplomats in countries such as Pakistan or Sudan try to push those governments to repeal their blasphemy laws, they are told that “you have similar laws in the EU”.
Ms McGuinness said since being assigned responsibility for these issues by the President of the European Parliament 18 months ago, she has worked with various EU and international bodies to promote the fundamental EU value of religious freedom in foreign policies. This core freedom, enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, specifies that it “includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
The MEP said she has also supported what she describes as the tremendous work done by human rights and religious freedom NGOs around the world and held a number of hearings in the European Parliament where they were able to raise awareness of the terrible abuses carried out in the name of fighting blasphemy.
“In Pakistan, one of the worst offenders, politicians have been subject to fatwas and ultimately assassinated simply for calling for a repeal of blasphemy or anti-conversion laws,” she said.
MEP McGuinness said Ireland has an excellent track record of promoting human rights internationally.
“But our current blasphemy laws are a blemish on this record, diminishing our credibility in advocating for one of the most basic freedoms - the freedom to live out to the full one’s most deeply-held beliefs, including the freedom to adhere to no religion.
“This referendum will give Irish people the chance to make a very clear statement about the intrinsic value of freedom of religion or belief, enabling us to set an example and urge other EU Member States with such laws to follow suit,” she concluded.