the Irish for rights

Referendum should thoroughly revise free speech clause

Celtic Biblical image, via poetheadPart 5 of the Defamation Act, 2009 (also here), which came into effect on 1 January this year, controversially makes blasphemy a criminal offence. In the view of the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, the Constitution’s reference to blasphemy could not be ignored. It now seems that this reference might be removed. If so, the opportunity should be taken to revise the Constitution’s free speech clause in its entirety.

Stephen O’Brien reported in the Sunday Times last week that the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, intends to propose an Autumn referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution (athiest.ie | Attracta | Dispatches | Guardian | Human Rights in Ireland | Human Rights World | Jurist | Bill Tormey | Volokh | William Quill). This was confirmed on Wednesday by Carol Coulter writing in the Irish Times (ABC | Catholic Lawyers | Iona | Sunday Times).

I have long argued that the protection of freedom of expression in the Irish Constitution is very puny indeed and ought to be replaced at the first opportunity. I argue in today’s Irish Times that a referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution would provide just that opportunity:

Referendum on blasphemy should revise free speech clause

The promised referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution should go further, and entirely revamp the very limited guarantee of freedom of expression … Deleting one objectionable word, rather than thoroughly revising the whole gruesome clause, would be equivalent to repairing a single broken slate on the roof of a house which needs complete refurbishment. … The freedom of expression guarantee in the Irish Constitution is an example of the wrong way to protect free speech. The forthcoming referendum should replace it with something far better suited to the needs of a modern constitutional democracy.

The full text of a possible alternative is available here. The cases referred to in the piece are:

  • Murphy v Independent Radio and Television Commissions [1999] 1 IR 26; [1998] 2 ILRM 360 (Supreme Court held that free speech is fundamental both for personal development and as a foundation of democracy);
  • Corway v Independent Newspapers 1999] 4 IR 485; [2000] 1 ILRM 426; [1999] IESC 5 (30 July 1999) (Supreme Court held that the common law crime of blasphemous libel was too uncertain to give content to the constitutional crime);
  • Mahon v Post Publications [2007] 3 IR 338; [2007] 2 ILRM 1; [2007] IESC 15 (29 March 2007) (Supreme Court asserted that the right of a free press to communicate information without let or restraint is intrinsic to a free and democratic society); and
  • Dillon v DPP [2007] IEHC 480 (4 December 2007) (High Court held that section 3 of the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847 infringed constitutional protections of speech).

7 Responses to “Referendum should thoroughly revise free speech clause”

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by cearta: http://tinyurl.com/ylby59r My new blogpost: Referendum should thoroughly revise free speech clause…

  2. Yvonne says:

    I absolutely agree. The text is utterly restrictive, especially when compared to the positvely worded free speech guarantee provided by the Convention.

  3. […] Energetic blogger Eoin O’Dell (of Cearta.ie) has argued in the Irish Times and a blogpost that the opportunity should be used to revised the “free speech clause” in the […]

  4. […] This is welcome, but doesn’t go far enough: the entire free speech clause should be thoroughly reformed (especially if there is to be a convention to develop a new constitution). Of course, this […]

  5. Mike says:

    Free speech seems essential for a free society, although learned tolerance is imperative and the world is short on tolerance.

  6. […] to blasphemy (good) – and other unspecified issues, which might (or at least, I hope) include long-stalled reform of the law on freedom of expression. This entry was posted in Posts and tagged cloudcomputing, copyright, cyberlaw, internet, […]

  7. […] referendum should be held. But this was not the first time a government made such an announcement; in March 2010, less than three months after section 36 of the 2009 Act came into effect, the the then Minister […]

Leave a Reply



Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

“Cearta” really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

Academic links


  • RSS Feed
  • RSS Feed
  • Subscribe via Email
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Archives by month

Categories by topic

My recent tweets

Blogroll (or, really, a non-blogroll)

What I'd like for here is a simple widget that takes the list of feeds from my existing RSS reader and displays it here as a blogroll. Nothing fancy. I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

I had built a blogroll here on my Google Reader RSS subscriptions. Google Reader produced a line of html for each RSS subscription category, each of which I pasted here. So I had a list of my subscriptions as my blogroll, organised by category, which updated whenever I edited Google Reader. Easy peasy. However, with the sad and unnecessary demise of that product, so also went this blogroll. Please take a moment to mourn Google Reader. If there's an RSS reader which provides a line of html for the list of subscriptions, or for each RSS subscription category as Google Reader did, I'd happily use that. So, as I've already begged, I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

Meanwhile, please bear with me until I find a new RSS+Blogroll solution




Creative Commons License

This blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. I am happy for you to reuse and adapt my content, provided that you attribute it to me, and do not use it commercially. Thanks. Eoin

Credit where it’s due

The image in the banner above is a detail from a photograph of the front of Trinity College Dublin night taken by Melanie May.

Others whose technical advice and help have proven invaluable in keeping this show on the road include Dermot Frost, Karlin Lillington, Daithí Mac Síthigh, and Antoin Ó Lachtnáin.

Thanks to Blacknight for hosting.