18 January 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has warmly welcomed the commencement of the Blasphemy (Abolition) Act 2019. Director Liam Herrick said:
“This is a wonderful leap forward for human rights in this country. ICCL has been a staunch defender of freedom of expression for over 40 years and was always opposed to the criminalisation of blasphemy in Ireland. This is a watershed moment for rights in Ireland.”
During the 2018 blasphemy referendum, ICCL ran a campaign which highlighted the importance of freedom of expression.
The campaign focused not only on the chilling effect on free expression the law had in Ireland, but also the contradiction inherent in championing free expression at the UN while criminalising aspects of it at home.
Recently we have witnessed the growth of a hateful ideology which attempts to subvert the language and aims of human rights principles in order to suppress the rights of others.
Proponents use the term ‘free speech’ to defend acts constituting incitement to hatred. Ironically, their actions in fact impinge on the right to freedom of expression of those they seek to exclude from social discourse, many of whom self-censor because of fear. The language of human rights can never justify causing real harm to others.
ICCL is proud of our record of defending and promoting freedom of expression. It hasn’t always been easy.
In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, at the height of the Troubles, we campaigned against Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. The Act gave politicians broad-ranging powers to prohibit the broadcasting of interviews. We were frequently and spuriously tarred as IRA/INLA sympathisers because of our stance.
At that time we also supported the LGBTQI+ community through our opposition of the censorship of films and publications such as Gay News.
It was chiefly because of the bravery of those willing to speak out even when they were criminalised for doing so that homosexuality was decriminalised and marriage equality became law. Today, ICCL continues to call for the repeal of the anachronistic Censorship of Publications Act.
ICCL was the first body to campaign for freedom of information (FOI) legislation in Ireland as far back as 1978. We were involved in consultations with Government leading up to the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act 1997.
We continue to defend the right of people to know how government decisions that affect us all are taken.
More recently, ICCL supported artists and campaigners during the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment. We were spurred into action when the Charities Regulator ordered the removal of an artistic mural in support of reproductive rights.
We continue to work with artists to ensure that political and artistic freedom of expression are protected in line with the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Online, freedom of expression faces serious threats across the world and at home. We have been at the forefront of opposition to attempts to surveil and censor us online.
In the absence of mechanisms which would adequately protect our freedom of expression online, we have been calling for radical transparency by big tech companies in the systems used for takedown and censorship of content.
Notes for editors:
ICCL blasphemy position paper: https://www.iccl.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/ICCL-blasphemy-policy-position-for-web-1.pdf
Smearing of ICCL as INLA sympathisers: https://www.iccl.ie/2019/iccl-still-unafraid-to-take-on-the-state-says-director/
Campaign to repeal the Censorship Act: https://www.iccl.ie/news/human-rights-arts-organisations-repeal-censorship-act/
2003 policy document on review of FOI Act: https://www.iccl.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/High-Level-Review2003.pdf
Maser mural removal: https://www.iccl.ie/human-rights/civil-society/repealthe8th-maser-freedomofspeech/
ICCL call for radical transparency: https://www.iccl.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/190415-Online-content-regulation-ICCL-submission-FINAL.pdf
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is Ireland’s leading independent human rights campaigning organisation. We monitor, educate and campaign to secure human rights for everyone in Ireland.
More on our work on freedom of expression here: https://www.iccl.ie/free-expression/