|Exit polls indicate that Irish voters support a repeal of a blasphemy law from |
the constitution (AFP Photo/Paul FAITH)
Dublin (AFP) - Irish voters overwhelmingly backed the lifting of a constitutional ban on blasphemy, exit polls said Saturday, the latest reform relaxing the devout nation's historic ties to the Catholic Church.
An RTE television poll showed 71 percent of voters in Friday's referendum wanting to remove the 1937 constitutional provision and 26 percent choosing to keep it.
The Irish Times put the figures at 69 percent and 31 percent.
The referendum coincided with a presidential election in which incumbent Michael D Higgins was on course to be reinstated for another seven years in the largely ceremonial post, according to the polls.
Official results in both ballots are expected late Saturday or early Sunday.
In practice, the blasphemy ban is largely obsolete. There have been no successful prosecutions under the legislation since the birth of the Irish republic.
But some of its critics said the ban offered Ireland's tacit support to oppressive regimes around the world that restrict freedom of expression.
"The constitutional provision and Irish law on blasphemy gives comfort to countries where they have extremely draconian laws which are used to harass, to intimidate, to imprison, to subject people to violence,” Amnesty Ireland director Colm O'Gorman told AFP ahead of the vote.
The law was also heavily criticised in 2015 when police were forced to investigate British TV personality Stephen Fry for branding God "stupid" during an interview.
Politicians have long made it known they have intended to remove the provision.
The blasphemy referendum follows a landslide May referendum to repeal the country’s strict abortion laws.
Many saw that poll as an indication of the Catholic church's declining hold on Irish culture.
That vote was preceded by a vibrant campaign and national discussion, and enjoyed a turnout of 65 percent.
In the presidential ballot, RTE said the incumbent will receive 58 percent of the first-preference votes. The Irish Times put Higgins's support at 56 percent.
"If the exit polls are correct, and obviously they are very close together, I think that shows the people have voted for decency, for inclusiveness, for competency and experience that Michael D has brought to the role," presidential spokesman Bernard Harbour told RTE.
|Yes campaigners rejoice ahead of the final result of a landmark referendum in which|
Ireland voted by 66 percent to ditch its strict abortion laws (AFP Photo/Paul FAITH)