Consigned To The Scrapheap

Anthony McIntyre was in the Dundalk count centre yesterday.

Yesterday I made my way to Dundalk to monitor the count in the blasphemy referendum on behalf of Atheist Ireland. I stayed no more than half an hour. It was not organised particularly well largely due to poor communication from the electoral office. The count had not started, no one in the centre seemed to know what the procedures were, no passes had been issued by the returning officer, no one knew when the count would start, or if it would even be completed by the close of the day. But it was clear from other centres already counting that the referendum to remove Blasphemy from the constitution would be overwhelmingly successful. Not much point in hanging around. It was a done deal.

The political parties were there for the count from the Presidential election. As luck had it I landed plum in the middle of the Shinners, my greatest fear that somebody might think that, with my thick Belfast accent, I was one of their Northern bullies. A colleague from the Old Drogheda Society who I met fortuitously on entering the Oriel Park Youth Development Centre where the ballots were being counted, introduced me to Imelda Munster, one of the Sinn Fein TDs for Louth. Her courtesy was impressive. I retuned it in kind. The party's other Louth TD, Ged Monster, was there too but I had no interest in him.

Later Senator Ged Nash of the Labour Party caught up with me as I was leaving Oriel Park. He sought to enlighten me on what was happening with the referendum count, having received a call from Atheist Ireland about my confusion around things on the ground.  His advice seemed good: with 180 boxes to be counted, victory assured, there was little point in one person trying to act as a scrutineer. Liverpool were due to play Cardiff so I decided that soccer rather than atheism would get my metaphorical vote. In the event both Liverpool and the atheists emerged handsome winners. I sauntered off to catch the bus back to Drogheda, musing that shaking hands with Sinn Fein and Labour Party politicians in the space of twenty minutes was a new experience for me.  

Atheist Ireland described the outcome less accurately than I would have liked. It was not a case of removing a mediaeval crime from the constitution but a medieval law. Blasphemy should never have been a crime. It was made a crime to placate religious authorities and entrench their power. Yesterday confirmed just how broken that power has become. Irish Society has consigned it to the scrapheap.

Previously in the constitution was the wording:

The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.
The referendum result changes the wording to:
The publication or utterance of seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.
None of this means that people will be free to say or write what they want, just that religious opinion is no longer able to avail of a privileged status, no longer has a sense of entitlement constitutionally underpinned. The constitutional change is not a licence to stir up hatred against people who hold a religious opinion. 

Last night when I sat down to watch the news, the real blasphemy of the day was making its way onto our screens: the hate driven murder of Pittsburgh Jews as they followed the prescripts of their faith in a Pennsylvanian synagogue. That is a blasphemy we should never permit.

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.

Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

7 comments to ''Consigned To The Scrapheap"

  1. I would love to tell them (the churches) to fuck off ,but they have been doing that since that Welsh fucker Patrick stuck his neb in , on the footie side L/Pool scored some cracking goals yesterday grrr.

  2. It's astonishing to see how far the RC Church has fallen in the Republic especially if you remember the power they once wielded.

    Now, if we could just get the religious nutjobs up north to follow suit...

  3. Steve - it is a most welcome development to see the Church slip down the pecking order. These people who know absolutely no more about god than you or I setting themselves up as some sort of moral arbiter yet who have not the ethical ability to do the decent thing when it comes to child rape. How possibly could that crew give moral guidance to anyone on anything?

    People must always be free to practice their religion much as they should be free to follow their soccer club. They must not be allowed to practice their religion on you or me.

  4. Marty - it was great to get home and watch that game or the second half anyway. I got delayed by the wife taking me for coffee in town!!

  5. AM,

    thanks for clarifying the minor alteration in the wording. I hadn't seen it presented that way previously. In the context of other recent societal changes I'd have been pretty much unmoved either way whatever the result. The idea of the church having any arbitrary role in moral decision-making, for any significant numbers, is long redundant. Indeed, research shows that 'social connection' is the more significant motivator for those who continue with religious practice, and much more so than that of a need for moral guidance.

    On the matter of heightened social connection, Johanthan Haidt even goes so far as to hypothesise "that human beings are conditional hive creatures. We have the ability (under special conditions) to transcend self interest and loose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically) in something larger than ourselves."

    Humans flick the hive switch in almost infinite ways. Political anoraks flick it through political participation as exampled on the day of the count when results go their way. Sports fans flick it when their contestant or team prevails. Theists (and even atheists I guess) experience it when they come together successfully in pursuit of some common purpose.

    Though I agree with you that one group's preferred expression ought not dominate those of 'others' yet I'd hold, as I've argued previously with regards to this constitutional clause, it was in essence unenforceable and therefore effectively redundant. And though I view it merely a nominal change, with little obvious real impact, I don't want to piss on anyone's parade nor dampen down what was in all likelihood a buzzy day for you yesterday.

  6. Henry Joy - it sort of surprised me that people wanted the word blasphemy retained when the other words retained gave the protection required.

    I don't think it would have mattered in the slightest in material terms had there been no referendum on Blasphemy. I am just glad that it happened. I welcome it as another staging post in the progress of secularism for all rather then religion for a few. And the denial of the facility as a reference point for the theocrats in other countries is worthwhile having. But as you suggest there is a much wider range of issues that could have been done with being addressed.

    It wasn't a buzzy day for me but a busy one - I much preferred the Liverpool game - but it was being like the busy fool: doing a lot without getting a lot done. Was actually gonna ring you from the bus on the way back to relay the experiences! And I am not talking about religious ones!

  7. AM,

    slightly surreal moment for you no doubt ... 'Big Mackers' being treated respectfully by the Shinners.

    (If you can fit it into your schedule and you're not doing November lets arrange a day's walk about this month?)


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