Ireland's new blasphemy law: blame the recession

Irish Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern turns up in the Irish Times this morning, attempting to reassure voters that creating an offence of ‘blasphemous libel’ is an essentially benign move, and pointing out that, constitutionally, blasphemy is supposed to be a punishable offence:

‘My intention is to remove the possibility of prison sentences and private prosecutions for blasphemy, currently provided in Irish law.’

So far, so good. But Ahern continues:

‘The only credible alternative to this move is a blasphemy referendum, which I consider, in the current circumstances, a costly and unwarranted diversion.’

So essentially, this unwanted, unneeded and unpopular law is being pushed through because it would be too much trouble and expense to have a referendum.

Meanwhile, in the same paper, columnist John Waters, himself a deeply religious man, denounces Ahern’s proposal in a thoughtful piece, where he worries that legislating against blasphemy could chill jokes and humour:

‘It is true that we now live in a culture where what passes for humour is often elevated beyond merit, but the right to speak and joke freely remains as precious as the right to religious freedom. In truth, because both relate to the fundamental impulses of humanity, they are almost co-terminous.’