Section 35

‘The common law offences of defamatory libel, seditious libel and obscene libel are abolished.’

That’s the entirety of section 35 of the Defamation Act 2009, signed into law by the president, Mary McAleese, last Thursday.

The next two sections are devoted to blasphemy.

Blasphemy, you may remember, was included in the bill at the last minute because justice minster Dermot Ahern was advised that the Bunreachtrequires that blasphemy must be punishable by law.’

But the Bunreacht doesn’t just demand the outlawing of blasphemy. Publishing ‘blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.’

And far as I can tell, seditious libel was the only crime on the books.

Clearly, something doesn’t add up here. If blasphemy must be punishable by law for constitutional reasons, so surely must sedition. The great minds on the Council of State, who considered the bill before agreeing that the president could sign it, would surely have pointed out that a bill abolishing sedition was repugnant to the Bunreacht, wouldn’t they?

Since they didn’t, we can only assume that there’s no problem dumping sedition.

But that would mean blasphemy was expendable too.

Someone should have told the minister.

By Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and podcaster, yet still finds himself underemployed.


  1. I hardly deserve credit for spotting it. It’s right there in black and white immediately above the controversial sections on blasphemy. I’m more disquieted by the fact no one else seemed to spot it in the meeja.

  2. I should update this by saying that it’s been brought to my attention that sections 10 and 12 of the Offences Against the State Act make it an offence to publish or possess seditious material.

    However, it doesn’t seem to be an offence to author it.

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