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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Sep 2019

Vol. 267 No. 3

Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill 2019: Committee Stage

Section 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

I wish to reflect on the remarks made on Second Stage of the Bill in the context of what it will do. I wish to emphasise that I indicated that I will support its passage and that it needs to be supported in the circumstances I outlined. Senator Bacik raised the issue of whether the inclusion in the Defamation Act of the two sections dealing with blasphemy was necessary. I wish to remind the House that I brought forward a Bill in 2006 or 2007 which did not include such sections. As then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I was of the view that it was unnecessary for a statute to contain such provisions because if the Constitution stated it was an offence and the Judiciary stated it was unprosecutable as a result of vagueness, that was as far as needed to be gone. It had to be punishable in accordance with law. In the absence of legislation dealing with the matter, the law would be that it would be for the Judiciary to determine a punishment and that would be the end of it.

I concur with Senator Bacik's remarks on the amendment made to the Constitution. The reference to the publication or utterance of indecent matter was left in the Constitution without being defined. God knows that what was indecent ten, 20, 50 or 100 years ago is radically different from what is indecent now.

It would be difficult to define what is indecent now.

If blasphemy was worthy of removal from the Constitution on the grounds of vagueness, indecency was certainly not something which could be criminalised on the same basis. I completely agree with Senator Bacik on that point.

I agree with the remarks of the Minister of State regarding the conflation of religion and other political agendas. There is an entity named the National Party which constantly flirts with a toxic mixture of catholicity and reactionary politics which I decry. There are people who ideologically believe that there is a moral international right of migration. It is reasonable to state that economic migration is not to be confused with genuine use of the 1954 convention on refugees. We should be very careful before coming down with hammers and meat cleavers on people who perceive a difference between economic migration and asylum seeking in the strict sense of the term and just dump them all together into one basket. There is a difference. My comments in this regard are-----

-----not meant as encouragement to anyone but, as the Minister of State raised the issue, I wished to underline the fact that some people are ideologically blind to the distinction between asylum seeking and economic migration and they are entitled to that view. It is a legitimate view. They view the nation state and everything else as opposed to the great international order to which they aspire. I fully understand and intellectually respect their point of view, although I do not agree with it. Let us not just rush one way or another like the Gadarene swine-----

They rushed one way - straight over the cliff. Senator McDowell needs to brush up on his Bible studies.

The animal rights people would not be too happy.

I ask Senators to be conscious of the clock.

I wish to make clear that I do not believe the Defamation Act should have included the blasphemy provisions. When I was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I acted according to that view.

Very good. End of story.

I do not regret the absence of these sections from the Defamation Act. If we are in the business of having a civil and tolerant society, there cannot be absolute licence to outrage others for the purpose of outraging them. Senator Norris may be correct that the way to deal with such matters would be through breach of the peace powers. It may be that an elaboration of the law with regard to behaviour leading to a breach of the peace is the only way to deal with it. We should be conscious that what is involved is not hatred; it is contempt. I will say no more on the Bill. I support its passage.

I wish to comment on the section in light of the remarks of Senator McDowell. There is a delicious irony in his reference to the Gadarene swine. I am reading a book on a related issue by Tom Holland. It is impossible to escape religious cultural inheritance, as the Senator's comments showed.

On the issue of whether statutory provision for an offence of blasphemy ought to have been made, it is almost as though it is open to us to see whether the lacuna that will be created by the legislation will be abused and lead to the possible mischief of which the Senator is fearful. As I stated earlier, Labour Party Senators were wrong in making dire predictions about the possible effects of the relevant sections of the Defamation Act. If the provisions of this Bill are abused, we could then discuss what amending legislation might be necessary to address any mischief that might emerge.

As it is 2 o'clock, in accordance with Standing Orders I invite the acting Leader to make a proposal. I hope Senator Mullen does not have much more to say.

I have a little more to say.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.