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Question

174. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the blasphemy law was brought in without a referendum but a referendum is required to change it; if it is, in fact, necessary to hold a referendum; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25410/15]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The current statutory provisions on blasphemy are sections 36 and 37 of the Defamation Act 2009. These sections replaced the equivalent section 13 in the Defamation Act 1961, though the current provisions provide for a more limited and strictly defined offence, for new defences, and for reduced penalties, compared with the 1961 Act.
As the Deputy will be aware, the statutory provisions on blasphemy did not require a constitutional referendum because they were introduced, following advice from the Attorney General, to reflect the requirements of the Constitution itself. Article 40.6.1(i) of the Constitution provides that: ....' The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law. ' Successive Attorneys General have advised that this Article creates a constitutional obligation on the Government to ensure and maintain legislative provision for an offence of blasphemy.
The Deputy will be aware that last September the Government agreed to hold a referendum on removing the offence of blasphemy from Article 40.6.1(i) of the Constitution, in response to the 6th Report of the Convention on the Constitution.
The work necessary to prepare a Referendum Bill and a Bill to amend the current legislative provision for the offence of blasphemy is ongoing in my Department, in accordance with the current Government Legislative Programme.
An appropriate date for the Referendum will be decided by Government when the legislation has been prepared. Earlier this year, the Taoiseach confirmed in the Dáil that the blasphemy referendum will not be held before March 2016.