How laws are made

Laws are made by the Oireachtas. The Oireachtas consists of the Dáil, the Seanad and the President. Laws made by the Oireachtas must comply with the Constitution. The Constitution sets out the basic law of the State.

Laws, if challenged, may be reviewed by the courts. The courts may declare a law invalid if it conflicts with the Constitution. The Constitution can only be altered by the people in a referendum.

The current legal position

The Constitution says that citizens have the right to freely express their convictions and opinions. However, there are certain restrictions on this right. For example, the Constitution says that the publication or utterance of something blasphemous must be a criminal offence.

Publication generally means a statement in written or permanent form. Utterance generally means a spoken word or statement. The Constitution does not itself define blasphemy. The legal definition of blasphemy is contained in the Defamation Act 2009.

The Defamation Act 2009

That Act says that a person publishes or utters something blasphemous if they

  • publish or say something 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, and
  • intend to cause that outrage. 

Under the 2009 Act, where a person is accused of the criminal offence of publishing or saying something blasphemous, it is a defence if they can prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value in what they published or said. If convicted of this offence, a person may be fined up to €25,000. There is no prison sentence for this offence.

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