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25th Oct 2018

Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming Blasphemy referendum

Jade Hayden

On Friday, October 26 the referendum on blasphemy will take place.

The Irish electorate will vote on whether to remove the issue of blasphemy from the constitution.

Currently, under Irish law, saying or publishing something blasphemous is a criminal offence meaning that it is punishable by law – a fine of up to €25,000.

This month’s referendum will allow the public to decide whether the Oireachtas should be permitted to change the law and remove the word from the constitution, no longer making blasphemy a crime.

So, what does the blasphemy law actually mean? 

Under Article 40.6.1, sub paragraph one, it is a criminal offence to say or publish something blasphemous.

While blasphemy is not defined in the constitution, it is detailed in the Defamation Act (2009). Section 36 reads:

“A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.”

The act states that whatever is said must be “grossly abusive or insulting” to the point where “outrage” is caused.

Has anyone ever been fined for blasphemy under Irish law? 

The last known criminal prosecution for blasphemy in Ireland is thought to have occurred in the mid-nineteenth century.

In 2015, then Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil that 1855 was the last time a person was punished under the law. He also said that there have been no prosecutions of that nature under the Defamation Act.

Earlier that same year, Gardaí launched an investigation into Stephen Fry after he called God an “utter maniac” on television. Fry’s words were reported to Gardaí by a member of the public who found them offensive.

The investigation was later dropped.

What are you voting to change? 

A ‘Yes’ vote means that you do not want blasphemy to be a criminal offence.

If this referendum passes, the word ‘blasphemy’ will be removed from the Irish constitution and the Oireachtas will be permitted to legislate accordingly.

A ‘No’ vote means that you want blasphemy to remain a criminal offence punishable by law.

If this referendum doesn’t pass, the word ‘blasphemy’ will remain in the constitution.

How do you know if you’re registered to vote? 

You can input your information here to check if you are registered to vote in this upcoming referendum.

Alternatively, you can also check the register at your local authority, Garda station, public library or post office. Polling cards are being posted out across the country over the next few days.

If you have not yet registered to vote, you must download an RFA2 form and submit it to your local authority 14 days before polling day (excluding Sundays, public holidays and Good Friday).

It is currently too late to be included on the supplementary register for this referendum, but you can still get yourself onto the register for future polls.