Monday, July 13, 2009

Blast the Blasphemers

My dear auld sod, Erin go bràgh, seems to be loosin' the run of itself these days. You would think that navigating a country out of its worst sudden-onset recession on record was challenging enough without conjuring up needless distractions. Maybe that's it - maybe our politicians are driven to distraction with the impossible extrapolated percentages they are confronted with these days. Maybe the financial crisis has reignited our fundamentalist streak (Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, right, lighting candles in the holy city of Jerusalem).

In any case, in their collective wisdom, the Irish government is today -- I kid you not -- planning to introduce blasphemy legislation. Maybe it's in solidarity so that folks from Kandahar and Kerbala will feel right at home in Kilalla or Kilorglin. Well, that's one of the few possible reasons I can think of because the government itself doesn't seem to think it needs a reason and as such acts without any real motive - other than the fact that no such law exists.

Hardly a pressing legislative priority one would think (not least at a time when people throughout the country are rightly blasting the clergy off their high pulpits over the recent horrific revelations about child abuse).

Roy Brown, free thought champion and chief representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in Geneva, opined that it was “totally mind-boggling that a European government should even consider such a dangerous idea given that EU countries — now supported by the United States — have for years been fighting tooth and nail at the United Nations in Geneva and New York against almost identical proposals from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to get a global ban on ‘defamation of religion’.”

Dermot Ahern, one of the sharper pins in the government pack I would have thought, is the minister responsible for pushing through the legislation and argued some weeks back in an oped in the Irish Times that under his proposals, blasphemous material would be prosecutable if it is “grossly abusive or insulting in matters held sacred by a religion,” causes actual outrage among followers of that religion and if there is intent to cause outrage. “Such intent was not previously required;” he noted in his article.

The Cork-based Irish Examiner (best sports journalism in the country as it happens), true to Corkonian introspection, choose to quote its own homegrown political strongman, Micheal Martin, our foreign affairs minister.

It noted that Ireland voted with all other EU countries against a resolution on “combating defamation of religion” at the UN last December. Explaining that vote, Micheál Martin said: “We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.”

So how come such a swing (and why choose blasphemy for a policy swing in the first case?) in the space of a few months? Though, truth be told, that's not my main concern. I wonder now if some of our best native comedic talent will be curbed in their enthuasiasm for the genre. Tommy Tiernan in particular, has long been a thorn in the proverbials of the Irish clergy: "We used to grow priests in Ireland. We used to grow them from bits of people that we didn't like. But we over-planted. We had an epidemic."

And the Irish Examiner must be thinking along the same lines coz it wound up its editorial plainly and simply: “One man’s blasphemy is another man’s comedy classic.” I'd wager they were thinking of one of Tommy's many hilarious rants against the Catholic Church (see embedded video for a typical stand up Tommy gem -- the jury is still out whether this type of fare could now be considered unlawful or libelous under the new draconian measures).

Good luck to Ahern and company trying to gag Tiernan and fellow travellers. That might be one battle too far even for a minister who wants to tackle Ireland's gangland head on with more emergency legislation that, among other things, will empower the tax collector and security forces, to monitor all mobile phone and email traffic within Ireland. While the reaction to this is understandably fervent in its opposition the blasphemy laws will be the benefactor and probably sneak in unopposed under the Céad Mile Fàilte welcome mat of the highest court in the land.

God help us all (now I didn't mean that in any blasphemous way you understand) but the Celtic Tiger is well and truly slain, if proof were needed!



  1. Paul,

    Excellent stuff Between this and worshiping tree stumps Ireland has definitely taken a few steps backward recently. Check out this guy on you tube.

  2. For many the Catholic Church in Ireland has become an evil and corrupt enterprise, the last refuge of paedophiles and child rapists. They have defamed themselves without any assistance from anyone else. Its enough to make Protestants of all of us.