Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018

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Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018
Repeal of offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter
Location Ireland
Date26 October 2018 (2018-10-26)
Results
Votes %
Yes 951,650 64.85%
No 515,808 35.15%
Valid votes 1,467,458 98.51%
Invalid or blank votes 22,236 1.49%
Total votes 1,489,694 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 3,401,652 43.79%
Results by county
Blasphemy referendum 2018.svg
  Yes     No

The Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018 (bill no. 87 of 2018) is a pending amendment to the constitution of Ireland to remove the offence of publishing or uttering blasphemous matter. An amendment to the constitution must be proposed in Dáil Éireann, passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, and approved in a referendum.

The bill was introduced to the Oireachtas on 13 July 2018 by the Fine Gael minority coalition government. A referendum was held on 26 October, on the same date as the presidential election.[1] A second referendum on whether to remove an article referring to women’s place in the home, originally scheduled for the same date, was postponed until 2019.[2]

The amendment was approved by nearly 65% of the voters, with approval from every constituency.[3]

Background[edit]

The publication or utterance of blasphemous matter is an offence specified by the Constitution of Ireland as an exception to general guarantee of the right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions. In Corway v Independent Newspapers (1999), the Supreme Court held that the common law crime of blasphemous libel related to an established church and could not have survived the enactment of the Constitution. They also held that it was impossible to say what the offence of blasphemy consisted of.[4]

The offence of publishing or uttering blasphemous matter was first defined in Irish law in the Defamation Act 2009. Someone is guilty of the offence if they publish or utter "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", and they intend, "by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage". There is a broad defence where "a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates".[5] To date, there has not been a public prosecution for the offence of blasphemy in the Irish state.

The Constitutional Convention held a session in November 2013, where they proposed replacing the offence of blasphemy in the Constitution with a prohibition on the incitement of religious hatred.

The matter came to public attention, in May 2017, when it was announced that English comedian Stephen Fry, along with broadcaster RTÉ, were under criminal investigation for blasphemy under the Act, following a complaint from a member of the public about comments made by Fry in a 2015 broadcast interviewed with veteran Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne. The case was dropped after the police confirmed that they had not been able to locate a sufficient number of offended people.[6]

In June 2018, Minister for Justice and Equality Charles Flanagan announced that the government would hold a referendum to simply remove the reference to the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution.[7]

Proposed change to the Constitution[edit]

The Thirty-seventh Amendment Bill proposes to amend the final sentence of paragraph i of subsection 1º of Article 40.6 by substituting "seditious" for "blasphemous, seditious,".[8][9] The text reads:

The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.[9]

The proposed text reads:

The publication or utterance of seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.

Proposed subsequent legislation[edit]

If the referendum is passed, the Department of Justice and Equality's draft general scheme for subsequent legislation proposes that the Government will then introduce a formal Bill to repeal sections 36 and 37 of the Defamation Act 2009, which deal with the 'Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter' and the 'Seizure of copies of blasphemous statements' respectively,[10][11] as well as to replace the words “indecent, obscene, or blasphemous” by “indecent or obscene” in the Censorship of Films Act 1923 as amended by the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008, and in the Censorship of Films (Amendment) Act 1925.[11]

Passage through the Oireachtas[edit]

The Bill was proposed by Minister Charlie Flanagan and passed all stage in the Dáil on 18 September and all stages of the Seanad on 20 September.[12] Amendments by Solidarity to remove other religious references from the Constitution were ruled out of order.[13][14] It was opposed in the Seanad by Rónán Mullen.[15]

Campaign[edit]

A Referendum Commission to provide information to the public on the proposed amendment was established on 18 July 2018.[16] Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy signed the electoral order for the referendum on 21 September, setting the polling date as 26 October.[17][18]

By 17 October, there had been little public debate about the referendum, leading The Irish Times to suggest that this might cause most "Don't know" voters to end up voting "No" as had happened before in similar little-debated referendums, although it still expected the referendum to be carried based on the most recent opinion poll of 12 October.[19]

For[edit]

Those who supported removing blasphemy from the constitution included:

Not opposed[edit]

Against[edit]

Those who opposed removing blasphemy from the constitution included:

Opinion and exit polling[edit]

Last date
of polling
Polling firm / Commissioner Sample size Yes No Undecided Lead
17 September 2018 Amárach/Claire Byrne Live poll for TheJournal.ie[36] over 1,000 54% 17% 29% 37%
12 October 2018 Ipsos MBRI/The Irish Times[19] 1,200 51% 19% 25%[a] 32%
Exit polls
26 October 2018 Ipsos MBRI/The Irish Times[37] 4,365 69% 31% 38%
26 October 2018 Red C/RTÉ News[38] 3,474 71.1% 26.3% 44.8%[b]
  1. ^ An additional 4% stated that they will not vote, hence, does not add to 100%.
  2. ^ 1.8% saying they had not voted on the blasphemy referendum and 0.8% said they did not know or refused to indicate which way they voted.

Voting[edit]

The referendum took place on 26 October 2018, on the same day as the presidential election. Polling stations were open from 7 am until 10 pm. Turnout was reported to be low in many areas of the country. By midday, turnout percentages from around the country were in the low teens, with many polling stations reporting single figure percentages. In Dublin some estimates suggested that turnout would be half that of the referendum on the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland in May.[39]

Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018[40]
Choice Votes %
Referendum passed Yes 951,650 64.85
No 515,808 35.15
Valid votes 1,467,458 98.51
Invalid or blank votes 22,236 1.49
Total votes 1,489,694 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 3,401,652 43.79
Results by constituency[40]
Constituency Electorate Turnout (%) Votes Proportion of votes
Yes No Yes No
Carlow–Kilkenny 108,863 45.90% 30,438 18,699 61.95% 38.05%
Cavan–Monaghan 91,692 41.77% 21,045 16,462 56.11% 43.89%
Clare 83,044 50.31% 25,386 15,635 61.89% 38.11%
Cork East 86,180 44.53% 23,751 14,046 62.84% 37.16%
Cork North-Central 84,919 41.55% 22,379 12,452 64.25% 35.75%
Cork North-West 68,820 50.14% 20,086 13,708 59.44% 40.56%
Cork South-Central 88,074 45.87% 27,381 12,588 68.51% 31.49%
Cork South-West 63,897 48.33% 18,800 11,404 62.24% 37.76%
Donegal 119,318 33.68% 20,312 19,108 51.53% 48.47%
Dublin Bay North 114,597 44.56% 36,649 13,930 72.46% 27.54%
Dublin Bay South 80,146 36.69% 22,329 6,866 76.48% 23.52%
Dublin Central 48,588 31.75% 11,359 3,908 74.40% 25.60%
Dublin Fingal 96,612 44.72% 31,645 11,267 73.74% 26.26%
Dublin Mid-West 72,006 40.75% 20,449 8,632 70.32% 29.68%
Dublin North-West 62,726 37.99% 16,722 6,907 70.77% 29.23%
Dublin Rathdown 65,918 48.44% 23,510 8,182 74.18% 25.82%
Dublin South-Central 73,567 38.12% 20,214 7,562 72.78% 27.22%
Dublin South-West 107,134 42.71% 32,651 12,853 71.75% 28.25%
Dublin West 67,625 42.31% 20,261 8,092 71.46% 28.54%
Dún Laoghaire 96,825 46.88% 33,988 11,095 75.39% 24.61%
Galway East 70,302 48.42% 20,248 12,981 60.93% 39.07%
Galway West 109,523 43.74% 30,917 16,063 65.81% 34.19%
Kerry 111,777 45.12% 28,373 20,873 57.61% 42.39%
Kildare North 86,305 44.13% 27,399 10,284 72.71% 27.29%
Kildare South 63,929 41.06% 17,374 8,510 67.12% 32.88%
Laois 64,139 43.43% 16,314 11,060 59.60% 40.40%
Limerick City 79,647 41.60% 21,702 10,948 66.47% 33.53%
Limerick County 68,740 46.53% 18,450 12,880 58.89% 41.11%
Longford–Westmeath 92,354 41.45% 22,637 15,008 60.13% 39.87%
Louth 110,256 41.28% 29,532 15,451 65.65% 34.35%
Mayo 91,412 45.91% 23,305 17,630 56.93% 43.07%
Meath East 68,591 43.47% 19,671 9,798 66.75% 33.25%
Meath West 66,848 40.61% 16,768 9,988 62.67% 37.33%
Offaly 66,208 45.35% 16,919 12,544 57.42% 42.58%
Roscommon–Galway 64,857 49.20% 17,466 13,709 56.03% 43.97%
Sligo–Leitrim 96,653 43.99% 23,380 18,297 56.10% 43.90%
Tipperary 114,433 48.30% 32,209 21,985 59.43% 40.57%
Waterford 83,359 43.28% 23,517 12,016 66.18% 33.82%
Wexford 111,897 43.92% 31,085 17,315 64.23% 35.77%
Wicklow 99,871 50.68% 35,029 15,072 69.92% 30.08%
Total 3,401,652 43.79% 951,650 515,808 64.85% 35.15%

Analysis[edit]

The Irish Times's analysis of its exit poll data said that "younger voters overwhelmingly backed deletion, while older voters were much more evenly split, with 48 per cent voting to retain the constitutional article as it currently stands".[37]

RTÉ noted that given that the presidential election had received far more attention, it had been expected that there would be more abstainers than the 1.8% reported in its exit poll data.[38]

When analysing the Red C/RTÉ exit poll,[38] RTÉ Religious and Social Affairs Correspondent Joe Little said that older voters were less likely to vote 'Yes', with over 8 out of 10 voting 'Yes' among those aged under 44, 7 out of 10 among those aged under 45 to 64, and 6 out of 10 among those aged over 65.[41] Support for 'No' also increased in the lower socio-economic groups, with 77% of those in the top ABC1 group voting Yes, 70% of the C2DE group, and 63% of the bottom F group.[41] Sinn Féin voters were likeliest to vote ‘Yes’, followed by those voting Fine Gael, Independent, Labour, and Fianna Fáil.[41] Women and men were equally likely to vote 'Yes'.[41] 80% voted ‘Yes’ in Dublin, slightly over 70% in Munster, and slightly under 70% in the rest of Leinster, and in Connacht and the three border counties of Ulster (Donegal, Cavan,and Monaghan).[41] Only 69% said that "they understood the proposition to abolish the offence in the Constitution" (74% of ‘Yes’ voters, and 64% of ‘No’ voters).[41]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bardon, Sarah (23 June 2018). "President tells Government of intention to seek second term". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  2. ^ McMorrow, Conor (5 September 2018). "Referendum on place of women in the home deferred". RTÉ News. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  3. ^ "Elections Ireland: Referendum 26 October 2018 Repeal of Blasphemy Offence". www.electionsireland.org. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  4. ^ Corway v Independent Newspapers [1999] IESC 5
  5. ^ "Defamation Act 2009, Section 36". Irish Statute Book. Office of the Attorney General. 23 July 2009. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  6. ^ McMahon, Cathal (8 May 2017). "Stephen Fry blasphemy probe dropped after gardaí fail to find 'substantial number of outraged people'". the Irish Independent.
  7. ^ "Minister Flanagan announces Government approval for the holding of a Referendum on the removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution". 12 June 2018. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  8. ^ "Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter) Bill 2018" (PDF). Houses of the Oireachtas. 13 July 2018. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  9. ^ a b Constitution of Ireland (PDF). Department of the Taoiseach. February 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2018. (page 152) FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS - PERSONAL RIGHTS - ARTICLE 40 ...
    {page 160) 6 1° The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality: –

    i The right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions.

    The education of public opinion being, however, a matter of such grave import to the common good, the State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State.

    The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.
  10. ^ "Explainer: What is the upcoming blasphemy referendum about?". TheJournal.ie. 23 September 2018. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Draft of General Scheme of the Repeal of Offence of Publication or Utterance of Blasphemous Matter Act 2018" (PDF). Department of Justice and Equality. 2018. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  12. ^ "Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter) Bill 2018 (Bill 87 of 2018)". Houses of the Oireachtas. 20 September 2018. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  13. ^ "Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter) Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages". Houses of the Oireachtas. 18 September 2018. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  14. ^ "Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter) Bill 2018: Committee Amendments" (PDF). Houses of the Oireachtas. 17 September 2018. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  15. ^ "Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter) Bill 2018: Second Stage". Houses of the Oireachtas. 20 September 2018. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  16. ^ "S.I. No. 255/2018 - Referendum Commission (Establishment) (No. 2) Order 2018". Irish Statute Book. 18 July 2018. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  17. ^ "Blasphemy referendum to go ahead on October 26th as Minister signs order". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  18. ^ "Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter) Bill 2018". Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. 21 September 2018. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  19. ^ a b Pat Leahy (17 October 2018). "Blasphemy offence on course to be removed from Constitution". The Irish Times.
  20. ^ "We must vote yes to remove the crime of blasphemy from our Constitution – Flanagan". Fine Gael. 18 October 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Religious faiths are strong enough to withstand the removal of Blasphemy law – O'Callaghan". Fianna Fáil. 19 October 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  22. ^ "Sinn Féin calls for Yes vote in Blasphemy referendum". Sinn Féin. 20 October 2018. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  23. ^ "Liam van der Spek Welcomes Referendum on Removal of Blasphemy Offence". Labour Party. 13 October 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  24. ^ "Green call for Yes Vote in Blasphemy Referendum". Green Party. 19 October 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  25. ^ "Blasphemy – There Is More To It Than Just A Word". People Before Profit. 10 October 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  26. ^ "Social Democrats introduce Bills to safeguard freedom of speech by abolishing archaic blasphemy offence". Social Democrats. 12 July 2017. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  27. ^ "ICCL calls for YES vote in Blasphemy Referendum". Irish Council for Civil Liberties. 27 September 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  28. ^ "Church of Ireland backs removal of blasphemy offence". The Irish Times. 17 October 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  29. ^ "Atheist Ireland: Referendum on blasphemy about freedom of speech". Irish Examiner. 30 September 2018. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  30. ^ a b "Minister Charlie Flanagan and Senator Ronan Mullen on the blasphemy referendum". RTÉ. 24 October 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  31. ^ a b c d "Watch: Reasons to vote in the blasphemy referendum". RTÉ. 24 October 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018. Senator Ivana Bacik - Yes; Séamas de Barra, Alliance for the Defence of Marriage and the Family - No; Dr Colum Kenny, DCU School of Communications - No; Michael Nugent, Atheist Ireland - Yes
  32. ^ McNeice, Stephen (3 October 2018). "Irish bishops say constitutional article on blasphemy is 'largely obsolete'". Newstalk. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  33. ^ Conor Gallagher (3 October 2018). "Constitutional blasphemy clause 'largely obsolete', Bishops decide". The Irish Times. Retrieved 25 October 2018. Rights of religious communities to engage in public debate must be respected, conference states
  34. ^ "Religious groups back removal of blasphemy from the Constitution". Irish Independent, 23 October 2018.
  35. ^ "Blasphemy, Stephen Fry and referendum in Ireland". BBC News, 20 October 2018.
  36. ^ "A significant number of people don't know how they're going to vote in the blasphemy referendum". TheJournal.ie. 23 September 2018. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  37. ^ a b Pat Leahy, Political Editor (26 October 2018). "Michael D Higgins on course for decisive first-count victory as Peter Casey surges into second place". The Irish Times.
  38. ^ a b c "RTÉ exit poll suggests blasphemy referendum will pass". RTÉ News. 26 October 2018.
  39. ^ Fitzgerald, Martina (26 October 2018). "Polls close in Presidential and referendum votes". rte.ie. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  40. ^ a b "Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Results". Referendum Commission. 27 October 2018.
  41. ^ a b c d e f Joe Little, Religious & Social Affairs Correspondent (27 October 2018). "Older voters less likely to back removal of blasphemy - poll". RTÉ News. Retrieved 27 October 2018.

External links[edit]