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New law on blasphemy is against all religion

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Date Published: {J}

WELL, I messed up big time last week, didn’t I? I forgot completely which part of the Constitution requires us to have blasphemy law.

Naively I assumed it would be Article 44, the one on religion. What a fool I was. The relevant text appears under the section that describes our personal freedom. As an exception, of course.

40.6.1° The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality:

i. The right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions.

The education of public opinion being, however, a matter of such grave import to the common good, the State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State.

The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.

All right, I can understand the necessity of the State having laws against sedition. That’s armed opposition to legitimate government. But indecency and blasphemy? In the same sentence? The word indecency seems faintly ridiculous today – I’m not even sure if it’s technically possible to be indecent without wearing a monocle – so it’s hard to imagine what counted back in 1937. Naughty What The Butler Saw film reels I suppose. And the works of James Joyce.

Today we still have laws about what is and is not legal to broadcast or publish, but in place of a concept as vague as indecency they use clear-cut exceptions to the general principle of freedom. That does not seem to conflict with the Constitution.

So if I could manage to fool myself considerably, I could pretend the new law was an honest effort to clearly define blasphemy. But this is not what it does. For a start, it defines it in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with what the framers of the Constitution meant by the term. They understood blasphemy to be speech offensive to God; the new law redefines it as speech that anyone is offended by on religious grounds. The upshot is that, far from making the concept more clear, it makes it completely open-ended.

Take this example: One of the fastest-growing religions in the country is Wicca, a mixture of the little we really know about druidism and witchcraft, helped along with a good pinch of just-made-up. Now already I have offended some Wiccans. You could offend even more by suggesting they were Satanists. Are Wiccans defended from my offensive suggestions of Satanism by this law? Apparently.

So what about other faiths? It is a matter of fundamental Christian doctrine that the Jews saw and yet rejected the Messiah, which is an insanely offensive concept to Jewish people. Islam denies that Christ was divine, effectively accusing all Christians of worshipping a man. Some Protestants claim that the Pope is the Antichrist. In short, it is a fundamental fact of religion that what is sacred to one person is ‘grossly abusive or insulting’ to someone else. Bizarrely therefore, this is really a law against all religion.

And about time too.

Richard.Chapman@Gmail.com

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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