An Irish police investigation into allegedly blasphemous comments made by Stephen Fry during a TV interview has been dropped after detectives decided there were not enough people who had been offended by the remarks.
Police launched an investigation into the presenter, author and comedian after he described God as “capricious”, “mean-minded”, “stupid” and an “utter maniac” during an appearance on Irish television show The Meaning of Life in February 2015.
A source told the Independent:
Gardaí (Irish police) were unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.
Fry’s comments were widely reported but did not become a legal matter until a man complained last year, prompting a police inquiry.
This man was simply a witness and not an injured party. For this reason the investigation has been concluded.
The man who made the initial complaint about Fry is said to be satisfied that Irish police had investigated the matter fully and told detectives he had merely been doing his civic duty in reporting it.
Just days before the investigation was dropped, Emer O’Toole, writing for the Independent, said:
You’re probably thinking that Ireland’s blasphemy law is some anachronistic throwback from the nineteenth century, still on the books though never enforced – like the ones about being intoxicated while in charge of a cow or taking public transport while you have the plague. You’d be wrong. The offence of “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” was introduced to a new defamation act by then justice minister Dermot Aherne in 2009, and came into law in 2010.
It is now illegal to utter or publish any material “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion” where intent and result is “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.”
There are few absolutely dependable things in this world, but I would contend that the outrage of vast swathes of the religious when asked if they might be drunkenly driving their sacred cows is amongst them.
Ireland’s “modern” blasphemy law has provided a model to Pakistan and other states who wish to limit freedom of conscience.
I know how the Irish head-in-the-sand brigade is going to respond to this latest piece of evidence that Father Ted was, in fact, a documentary. They’re going to say that the complaint against Fry is just some crazy hick exploiting a harmless law, and it’ll go nowhere, so we should all calm our jets and laugh it off.
I can see the jocular tabloid headlines already: Fry in Hell! And I agree that the case is likely to go nowhere. But we are deluded if we think that the 2009 law is not actively influencing, limiting, even dictating the content that we are offered by our national media.
And we are even more deluded if we think that we are living in a secular society. Just days ago, on 3 May, the Irish government made it mandatory to stand during the prayer that opens the Dáil (parliament) and to observe a moment of silence afterwards. This is an obvious infringement on the freedom of conscience of our elected representatives and coercion of this sort has no defensible place in a secular society. The motion passed by 97 votes to 17.
This is the public discourse and political context that allows for a situation where our elected representatives think it’s acceptable to give full ownership of a state-of-the-art national maternity hospital to an order of Catholic nuns who are ideologically opposed to contraception, IVF, and, of course, abortion.
This is the context that enables Catholic control of the Irish state-funded education system. It is the context that denies Irish women their reproductive rights.
It has to change – not because we’re all a bit embarrassed about inviting Stephen Fry on Irish telly and then casting him, without his permission, as a heretic in a medieval docudrama – but because the church should have no place in politics. We deserve a secular state. And we need to start insisting on one.