Historian advises Parliament of Ireland on blasphemy law

Thursday, 09 February 2012

Professor David Nash of the Department of History has briefed members of the Irish government on the country's blasphemy laws.

Professor David Nash of the Department of History has briefed members of the Irish government on the country’s blasphemy laws.

England and Wales abolished their laws on blasphemy in 2008. However, in Ireland, the offence has recently become punishable with a hefty fine of up to 25,000 Euros and has been the focus of a sustained abolition campaign from atheist, humanist, civil liberties and writers’ groups.

In March 2010, the newly-elected Irish coalition government announced there would be a referendum held over the future of the law. Professor Nash, a world-leading authority in this field, was invited to give members of parliament an overview of regulations governing blasphemy among Ireland’s neighbours:

“I outlined the historical and legal context of how laws have developed in the West, through a range of legal traditions and decisions, and how Ireland’s law fits into this context,” he explains.

“Based on what I knew of previous attempts to frame and reform laws of this nature, I also advised the politicians on the problems created by the precise wording of its provisions. These were around the definition of religion, the tests of offensiveness and precisely what matter or material may be covered by the law.

“In particular the international impact of the existence of this law was also stressed as an issue requiring urgent attention, since an existing functioning law sets a bad precedent for other nations that might seek to limit the freedom of their citizens.”

The briefing was mentioned in the Irish parliament afterwards by Senator Ivana Bacik who thanked Professor Nash before calling for an urgent debate on the ‘outdated’ state of affairs, saying she hoped the issue would be tackled soon through amended legislation.

Professor Nash has now been invited to present a report to other members of the Irish government and to further brief the Irish Council for Civil Liberties – Ireland’s leading independent human rights watchdog.

He has also been asked to update Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, on the situation.


Pictured are: David Nash and Ivana Bacik.