Further to the Stephen Fry blasphemy law brouhaha…
Liam Stack and Ed O’Loughlin, in the New York Times, report:
The Catholic Church has had profound cultural and political influence in Ireland, but adherence to its teachings has been waning in recent years. There are several continuing controversies in Ireland over the role of religion in public life, Mr. [Eoin Daly, law lecturer at NUI Galway] Daly noted, and Mr. Fry’s brush with the blasphemy law is probably the least urgent.
Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2015. Since then, it has been locked in a tense debate over abortion, which was banned in almost all cases by a 1982 referendum. Activists say thousands of Irish women leave the country for abortions each year.
The country has also experienced a string of scandals related to the Catholic Church’s role in managing public services, including the discovery of a mass grave on the site of a former publicly financed home for unwed mothers run by a religious order, the Sisters of Bon Secours.
“There has been a huge transformation of public opinion away from the orthodox Catholic positions over the last quarter of a century, but you still have significant church involvement in public services, especially education,” Mr. Daly said.
“You could say the church hasan outsized institutional role, considering the public opinion, values and beliefs in society.”
From top: Former Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern; Stephen Fry on The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne in January 2015
You may recall on Saturday how the Irish Independent’s Cathal McMahon reported that gardaí were investigating a complaint made by a member of the public who claimed English writer, actor, comedian and presenter Stephen Fry made blasphemous comments on RTÉ One television in January 2015.
It was reported that, after the comments were made on Gay Byrne’s The Meaning of Life, the complainant made the complaint in Ennis Garda Station.
The Irish Independent reported:
“In late 2016 I wrote to the Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan asking if the crime I reported was being followed up – a few weeks later I got a standard ‘we have received your letter’ from her secretary.” [the complainant said].
A number of weeks ago the complainant was called by a detective from Donnybrook garda station to say they were looking into the report he made about blasphemy on RTÉ.
“He said he might have to meet me to take a new more detailed statement.”
The viewer insisted that he wasn’t offended by the remarks but stressed that he believed Mr Fry’s comments qualified as blasphemy under the law.
A garda source said the matter is being investigated.
Further to this…
The former Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, of Fianna Fáil, spoke to Seán O’Rourke this morning in relation to Ireland’s blasphemy law which he updated in 2009 instead of having a referendum to get rid of it.
From their discussion…
Seán O’Rourke: “You were the Minister for Justice and Law Reform when the law was changed in, was it 2009? To introduce a particular provision on blasphemy. What happened then, remind us?”
Dermot Ahern: “Well I wanted to introduce a particular provision, it was already in the 1962 act, defamation. I became minister in 2008 and the defamation bill, which was mainly about defamation and slander and court actions in that respect and the high awards being given out in the courts and, your own organ and many other media outlets had lobbied very strongly for that particular piece of legislation. It wasn’t on my highest priority when I became minister because I was confronted with gangland crime and I, in order to get space in the Dáil, I concentrated on that. But, after about the year, I decided I’d have to do something and pass, bring forward the defamation bill at the time which I think had been initiated by my predecessor Michael McDowell. And we, I sat down with the Attorney General [Paul Gallagher], went through the whole thing and, at the very end of it, he said, by the way, he said ‘you have to put in something about blasphemy’. And I said, ‘what’s that, what’s it about?’. And he said, ‘well, in the Constitution it says that there’s a mandatory obligation on the Dáil and Seanad to have a law on blasphemy. So he gave me a choice: either we have a referendum to delete blasphemy or we, in effect, renew the crime of blasphemy, against blasphemy and that’s the choice we took, rather than go for a referendum.”
O’Rourke: “And this all happened a full 15 years or more, in fact, after the Law Reform Commission, recommended, in 1991, that there was no place in society that respected free speech for this kind of provision. And the Law Reform Commission recommended that it be deleted.”
Ahern: “They said it wasn’t appropriate but I think what they suggested was that it should, having a referendum on its own would be a waste of time I think they said, and an expensive exercise. I decided that there was no way that I was going to recommend to the Cabinet, in the economic climate that we had in 2009, when the Government were cutting people’s wages, where people were losing their jobs, where we were going to have an expensive referendum solely on the issue of blasphemy. I’d be laughed out of court…”
O’Rourke: “Why didn’t you just…”
Ahern: “What I did say, what I did say in the parliament, in the committee stage, was that the Government would consider having a referendum in conjunction with a number of other issues on the one day. And I obviously indicated that we would be willing to do that. In fact, I think it was in our Programme for Government at the time, that we’d do it. But I wasn’t going to recommend to Government that we would have a referendum seemingly about blasphemy.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, I think what happened was the 1961 act, which you were updating on, defamation, it prescribed penalties but didn’t define the offence of blasphemy and what you did then was have that definition introduced.”
Ahern: “Yes, and it was done in such a way, that as one of the experts in this area, a man called Neville Cox, said that in fact he said subsequently that the legislation, and I’m quoting from him, he basically said that the legislation fulfilled a constitutional obligation to have a crime of blasphemy but then he said, I’m only quoting what he said, ‘skilfully rendered the law completely unenforceable’.”
O’Rourke: “Was that your intention?”
Ahern: “To a certain extent it was, I can’t really…the Attorney General wouldn’t forgive me for saying it but we put in so many hurdles within, in order to ground the prosecution that we believed that we would never see a prosecution for it.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, because I think…”
Ahern: “That was only to fulfil, again, I said in the committee stage in the parliament, that we can’t do nothing, we had to do something. We either have a referendum which, as I said, I made a judgement and I think the Government would have agreed with me. That it was absolutely ludicrous to have a referendum in 2009 in those circumstances when, you know, the country was in severe difficulty and that here we were asking for people to go out and vote on blasphemy – you’d bring every headbanger in the country from either side of the argument solely on blasphemy.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, I think the definition, the definition that you put in there, it related to uttering material that would be grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion. But then a defence would be that there was a work of genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value…”
Ahern: “And that was all put in, and it was also put in I think that we would have to show that the person intended insult, which is a very difficult thing to prove. Obviously.”
O’Rourke: “And what about the fact though, that you kept in very hefty fines, was it what, up to €25,000?”
Ahern: “Well that was the recommendation from the Attorney General. I think it was based on what would be the updating of the original fine in the law.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, and then this matter was referred to, the previous Citizens’ Assembly, looked at all manner of subjects. Sorry, I’m going to rephrase that question. And then this matter was one of many which was looked at by the previous Citizens’ Assembly [the Constitutional Convention], the one whose work led to the marriage equality referendum and also the referendum on lowering the age for eligibility the age for the presidency and then I think there’s a current, there’s a commitment in the current programme for government, to hold this referendum. Do you think it should go ahead?”
Ahern: “Oh absolutely yes, and I, you know, I would be of my view that it should be done not on a single issue, that they should tack it on to some other referendum. There are those commitments and the Citizens’ Assembly have agreed, or suggested that it be deleted. I would have deleted it at the time, if I could, but I couldn’t other than have a referendum. And I was quite astounded by the subsequent reaction against it. Making me and the Government out to be extremely reactionary, etc, etc and also the suggestion that we were bringing in a new blasphemy law, when in fact we weren’t, it was an existing blasphemy law, 1961. All we did was dramatically dilute it in order to fulfil the mandatory obligation in the Constitution that there should be a law against blasphemy.”
Stephen Fry shares his love of the Irish language and recalls his small part in TG4’s Ros na Rún to promote Irish language festival Seachtain na Gaeilge 2017, which begins today until March 17.
“What do Stephen Fry, Ronan O’Gara, Stephanie Preissner, Paul Galvin, Nadia Forde and Miriam O’Callaghan all have in common? They are among the famous faces who have taken to their smartphones to share their Irish language experiences – using whatever Irish they have – as part of RTÉ’s Seachtain na Gaeilge 2017 celebrations (1st – 17th March).
Beginning with Stephen Fry’s musings above, RTÉ will share specially recorded messages in and on the Irish language by a number of well-known personalities daily on rte.ie/Snag, RTÉ’s YouTube channel and across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”
Translation: “Céard atá i bpáirt ag Stephen Fry, Ronan O’Gara, Stephanie Preissner, Paul Galvin, Nadia Forde agus Miriam O’Callaghan lena chéile? Tá siad i measc na ndaoine cáiliúla a roinnfidh a gcuid taithí ar an nGaeilge leis an bpobal ar a bhfón cliste – ag labhairt cibé Gaeilge atá acu – mar chuid de cheiliúradh RTÉ ar Sheachtain na Gaeilge (ón 1ú go dtí an 17ú Márta).
Le Stephen Fry a thosófar Dé Céadaoin an 1ú Márta. Déanfaidh sé féin agus scata daoine cáiliúla eile a gcuid smaointe i dtaobh na Gaeilge a roinnt leis an bpobal i dteachtaireachtaí ar láithreán gréasáin RTÉ, rte.ie/Snag, ar chainéal YouTube RTÉ agus ar na meáin shóisialta, Facebook, Twitter agus Instagram.”
Sinead O’Doherty of the Bloomsday festival writes:
Literary aficionado and comedian Stephen Fry talked about all things Joyce and modernist literature with Senator David Norris as part of our annual Interview programme in Joyce’s own alma mater, Belvedere College.
Stephen Fry in interview with David Norris spoke about Ulysses fondly and quipped that “There’s very few books that could generate such a day. It’s marvelous. A book that’s entirely of it’s place, even the taxi driver from the airport was able to point out where he (Bloom) bought his lemon soap.” He went on to say how he “found Dylan Thomas to be a bit putrid” and that “the best writers of English always seem to be Irish.”
There were a few comical moments during the evening, at one point the laptop projecting behind Norris and Fry went into screensaver “searching” mode, Fry joked that “It’s probably searching for Grindr” to which Norris responded that he’s “only just found out about Grindr”
Fry spoke about his education and discovery of literature while watching the movie version of The Importance of Being Earnest at age 10/11. I” didn’t know language could be an art, I knew music could, I knew a picture could, It was a total revelation to me”…. “I kind of received an accidental literary education outside school and I found language to be a great deflection for bullies.”
Stephen Fry congratulated David for his part in the Marriage Equality campaign to which the audience gave a raucous cheer.
Gay Byrne: “Suppose what Oscar believed in when he died, despite your protestations, it’s all true and you walk up to the Pearly Gates and you are confronted by God, what will Stephen Fry say to him, her or it?”
Stephen Fry: “I will basically, that is the theodicy I think, I will say ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you, how dare you create a world in which there is such misery it’s not our fault? It’s not right, it’s utterly utterly evil, why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I’d say.”
Byrne: “You think you’re going to get in?”
Fry: “No, but I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms. They’re wrong. Now if I died and it was Pluto, Hades and it were the twelve Greek Gods then I would have more truck with it because the Greeks were, they didn’t pretend not to be human in their appetites and in their capriciousness and in their unreasonableness.
They didn’t present themselves as being all seeing all-wise all-kind all beneficent, because the god who created this universe, if there is a god was quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish, totally, we have to spend our life on our knees thanking him, what kind of god would do that?.
Yes the world is very splendid but it also has in it insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind, they eat outwards from the eyes, why, why did you do that to us?
You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist, it is simply not acceptable, so you know atheism is not just about not believing there is a god, but on the assumption that there is one what kind of god is it, it’s perfectly apparent he is monstrous, utterly monstrous, he deserves no respect whatsoever, the moment we banish him life becomes simple purer, cleaner, and more worth living in my view.”
Byrne: “That sure is the longest answer to that question that I ever got in this entire series.”
The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne, Sunday February 1, 10.30pm