If the country wasn’t in such a bad state at the present time and if people weren’t so worried about money and jobs, or rather the lack of them, there would surely be something close to a revolution over the government’s plans to introduce a new crime of blasphemous libel.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern proposes to introduce the new crime by inserting a clause into the upcoming Defamation Bill. It is explained as follows: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be libel upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000. Blasphemous matter is defined as 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: and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”

Think about it and then think about all the brouhaha and fuss over the years about matters that were considered to be blasphemous by large numbers of people. Apart from serious discussions and debates, there were the comedy shows of Dave Allen in the 1970s, the sketches and films of Monty Python (The Life of Brian doesn’t bear thinking about), Spitting Image, the books of Salman Rushdie, the cartoons published just over a year ago by a Danish newspaper and, closer to home, the antics of Tommy Tiernan on The Late Late Show. If the Blasphemous Law in question was introduced in this country, these are just a few examples of ‘crimes’ that would land their authors in serious trouble.

Personally, I have no wish to offend anybody and I firmly believe people should be careful about their language. We should respect the feelings and sensitivities of others where at all possible. Most certainly, we can have our own opinions but we should never trample on the dreams and comforts of others, some of whom are often in vulnerable circumstances.

But, at the present time, a person can get up on a soapbox in John Robert’s Square and spend an afternoon regaling passers by with passages from the bible and/or other religious writings and scriptures. The same person can inform all within earshot that most of them will burn in the fires of hell for being sinners. That person can adapt, twist and manoeuvre religious teachings any way they please and can make the most outrageous statements and threats to passers by who do not share the speaker’s views and beliefs.

Equally, a person on the other side of the Square can denounce religion as a big load of nonsensical, ignorant superstition and mumbo-jumbo. It is called free speech and that is the way it should remain. People should be entitled to believe, or not believe, in what they want without fear of persecution, without fear of being hauled before a court or of having the gardai banging down their doors. And, believe me, that is what would happen if this piece of horrendous legislation is enacted.

And, by the way, don’t think such complaints would be confined to crackpots and minorities. There would be nothing to stop zealots of any religion, including the very big ones, making complaints against each other and the law would have to act upon those complaints. Then you could have an opposite view entirely whereby atheists could claim that their beliefs and sensitivities were being deliberately insulted by the preaching of religious groups.

The whole thing is daft and mad and potentially a huge blow against the most basic of civil liberties. I would have thought the government had enough to be going on with in these difficult times but it seems not. Incidentally, on a personal note, my stance against the crime of blasphemous libel says absolutely nothing about my own beliefs that are very much my own business.

A wise Judge

Not too long ago I wrote about a County Mayo farmer who was disqualified for a year in the District Court for driving a tractor and trailer too slowly as he made his way home from Bala Mart, in County Mayo. Well, last week, there was a sequel in the Circuit Court and many people would consider that the Judge handed down a wise decision.

Readers may recall that the defendant was disqualified at Castlebar District Court by Judge Mary Devins after she heard from a Garda witness that a long procession of traffic had built up behind the defendant at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The court was told that, even though there were six places over a three and a half mile stretch of road where he could have pulled in and allowed the tail-back to pass him by, the driver had not done so. When that was pointed out to the defendant by Garda John Daly at the time, the farmer replied that he had as much entitlement to be on the road as anybody else and he subsequently appeared in court when he failed to pay the fixed charge notice.

When the farmer’s appeal reached the Circuit Court last week, Judge Raymond Groarke commended Garda Daly for bringing the prosecution, Judge Groarke said the appellant was the author of his own misfortune, pointing out that people who crawled on the roads caused chaos and were as guilty as those who caused accidents by speeding.

However, on being informed by counsel for the defence, Anne Marie Courell, that her client needed his licence to look after his sick wife and that he had a perfect driving history being a member of the Institute for Advanced Motorists, Judge Groarke said he would alter the driving ban to apply only to the driving of a tractor and/or a trailer.

People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones

There has been a lot of talk of late about people from the Republic crossing the border in Northern Ireland to do their shopping. Amidst all the calls from business interests for people to show patriotism by shopping at home, there was, understandably enough, a clarion cry from Dundalk Chamber of Commerce because border towns are suffering most from the exodus.

Unfortunately though for the Chamber, the members have been left with more than a little egg on their faces. Just before Easter, the Chamber issued an advertising leaflet urging people to shop locally as opposed to in Northern Ireland. Entitled ‘Dundalk fighting back’, the flyer was distributed to homes in the area and featured offers from 13 local shops and businesses.

However, a Dundalk printer has now complained that the Chamber, while urging others to shop locally, went to Northern Ireland to get the leaflet printed. But, when contacted by The Argus, the Chamber chief executive, Bill Tosh, defended the decision.

Mr. Tosh said the leaflet selectively highlighted best-value items available in Dundalk in an attempt to address the myth that everything north of the border was cheaper. “We did not invite Dundalk people to shop locally exclusively but we did point out instances were they could get good value down here”, he said.

Mr. Tosh said the Chamber obtained two quotes from local printers but decided to opt for a Northern Ireland firm that could do the job cheaper. Pointing out that the leaflet promotion had been a great success, he said they always sought local quotes but were still obliged to extract best value from their limited budget. Hmmmmm, says you!

Some foreign anglers causing problems

There is concern in several parts of the country that some foreign anglers are jeopardising the eco systems of our rivers and lakes by using live bait brought with them from their own countries.

Recently, it emerged that Fisheries Board officers, on routine patrol, found a group of French tourists using live carp on their fishing rods on a stretch of water in Lough Derg near Killaloe. The anglers were using the live carp to catch pike and the officers found the bait was being kept in tanks inside the boat and also in a ‘keep net’ attached to the jetty near their holiday accommodation.

Fisheries Board officers described the situation as extremely worrying as it had the potential to cause serious damage to one of the county’s most valuable natural fisheries resources. The use of live bait is prohibited as it could introduce disease and another concern is that, at present, there are no carp in Lough Derg which is the third largest lake in Ireland and rich with stocks of trout, bream, pike and roach. The introduction of carp would upset the current nature balance in the lake, they point out and they strongly suspect the practice is also occurring in other parts of the country.