Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris has called for Ireland’s blasphemy law – introduced in 2009 – to be dropped
His intervention followed the news that Gardaí were investigating whether or not Stephen Fry should be prosecuted under Ireland’s blasphemy laws for remarks made on a religious affairs programme more than two years ago.
Officers were understood to be examining whether he committed a criminal offence under the country’s 2009 Defamation Act’s provisions on Blasphemy. Mr Harris said a referendum should be held to change the constitution’s stance of blasphemy.
“It’s silly. It’s a bit embarrassing. It needs to be changed. I’m very pleased that the Government wishes to see a referendum in relation to this issue. It obviously does require constitutional change,” he said.
Mr Harris said the Government has committed to holding a number of referendum during its lifetime and he hopes blasphemy is one of them.
“I’d hope to see it sooner rather than later. This is a democracy. People have the right to express whatever view they do. Stephen Fry, regardless of your own religious views, was clearly making a number of points that he clearly felt very strongly about in his usual witty way. I think we do need a referendum,” he said.
Mr Fry, asked by interviewer Gay Byrne what he would say to God if he met Him in the afterlife, replied by asking why he should “respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world…. full of injustice”.
Fry said: “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”
He went on to say that Greek gods “didn’t present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all beneficent”, adding “the God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish”.
The complaint is understood to have been made by a viewer in Ennis, Co Clare shortly after the programme was originally broadcast who said that while not personally offended the offended the comments qualified as blasphemy under the law, which carries a maximum penalty of a fine of 25,000 euros (£22,000).
The law prohibits people from publishing or uttering “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”.
The government said at the time it was needed because the republic’s 1937 constitution gives only Christians legal protection of their beliefs.
The former Justice minister who introduced the blasphemy law in the Defamation Act as part of the then Fianna Fail government, former TD Dermot Ahern told Irish news media at the weekend he’d had no choice but to include the blasphemy law. But, he said, the law was deliberately implemented in such a way as to make it “virtually impossible to prosecute”.
“We diluted it in a way that made it pretty ineffectual. “We implemented the crime but made it in a way that it would be virtually impossible to prosecute.”
“The Attorney General wouldn’t forgive me for saying it but, we put in so many hurdles in order to ground a prosecution that we believed we’d never see a prosecution,” he said.
Mr Ahern said that ideally he would have held a referendum on abolishing the law, but the economic climate would have made it impossible.