While the referendum on blasphemy has been overshadowed by the presidential election, the Galway West Labour Party is calling for a Yes vote, saying it would “remove a problematic anachronism from the Constitution”.
The vote to remove the offence of blasphemy will be held on Friday October 26, the same day as the vote to elect the president. According to Labour GW chair, Dr Andrew Ó Baoill, there is “a worry that many voters may be unaware it is taking place, or unfamiliar with the issues involved”.
Dr Ó Baoill says there is “broad political agreement” that blasphemy is “not something the State should be policing”. The 2009 act that introduced a €25,000 fine for blasphemy also recognises broad exceptions for creative, academic, political, and other purposes. However, he points out that this also creates “the absurd situation of creating significant penalties that are clearly not intended to be acted upon.”
To those concerned that removing blasphemy as an offence could give the green light to hate speech - acting disingenuously under the cover of free speech - against minorities, Dr Ó Baoill points out that if the referendum is passed, “it will still be possible for the Oireachtas to regulate incitement to hatred and other forms of speech that have actual potential to cause harm”.