THE Irish electorate voted overwhelmingly last Friday to delete a clause in the Constitution which makes blasphemy a criminal offence. The 37th Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of the offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter) was approved in a referendum by almost two to one in the country’s 40 constituencies: 64.85 per cent voted for, and 35.15 per cent against.
The east coast, which includes the capital, Dublin, brought out the highest proportion of reformers, while the lowest was along the west coast, with the exception of Galway. Up in the north-west corner, Donegal was the tightest: 51.5 per cent for, and 48.4 per cent against.
The result was welcomed by all the mainstream Churches, as well as Atheist Ireland and Amnesty International — the latter describing it as “another important step towards a human-rights-compliant Constitution”.
The Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick & Killaloe, the Rt Revd Kenneth Kearon, who chairs the Church and Society Commission, said that, while he welcomed the outcome, it was a pity that the government had not used the referendum as an opportunity “to take a lead within the International community by replacing it [the clause] with a provision protecting freedom of thought, conscience, and expression, including protection from hate speech: rights that are under threat or not available in many parts of the world”.
Welcoming the result, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, said: “Ireland is rightly proud of our reputation as a modern, liberal society. The world has watched in recent years as we have taken landmark decisions as a people to change our Constitution with regard to some of the deepest personal matters when we voted ‘Yes’ to marriage equality and to repealing the Eighth Amendment [to allow abortion].”
On the same day, the electorate returned the current President, Michael D. Higgins, who is 77, with 55.8 per cent of first-preference votes. In a field of six, his nearest rival, a businessman, Peter Casey, came in at 23.3 per cent.