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.