Though Ireland opted to reelect President Michael D Higgins to a new term on October 26, international attention focused on a referendum to end the strict Catholic country’s blasphemy laws adopted in 1937 when the Church had significant sway over public policy.
Far less controversial that a May referendum on abortion, the most recent vote saw Irish citizens cast a ballot to revoke the blasphemy laws.
Irish law defines blasphemy as a “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” Some have argued that this may still be a relevant clause in today’s Ireland, mostly for the protection of ethnic minorities, not Catholicism.
No one had been prosecuted for blasphemy in Ireland since 1855 when the country was still under British rule.
Higgins is a Labour Party politician and writer who mastered an impressive 56% share of the vote. He is credited with establishing an Irish language TV service and revitalising the film industry. He was the first Irish President to make a state visit to the UK.
The Irish president is a largely symbolic role with Leo Varadkar serving as the country’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, the head-of-state.