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27th Oct 2015

The Irish laws we REALLY want to change: 5 big reasons why

Grace Vaughan

Changes in law do happen – but it usually takes great courage and tenacity from an individual or group affected to campaign for such change. Then along came the marriage equality referendum and in their droves, people – gay and straight – swamped the polling stations baying for change to the outdated marriage law that existed at that time. Change sought; change got.

However, there are further calls for amendment in other areas of Irish law. Here are a few (there are many) on our minds:

1. Abortion

It is illegal to have an abortion in this country – under any circumstances. So if a woman is raped, pregnant with no chances of the baby surviving, or whose own health is at risk if she were to give birth – she cannot seek a termination. Repealing the Eighth Amendment aka the abortion laws is definitely on course for a people’s referendum with pro-lifers and pro-choicers trying to sway voters towards non-change or change.

2. Adoption

Under current legislation, if a husband wishes to adopt his wife’s child from a previous relationship, the woman must give up her legal rights and adopt her own child as part of what is known as the ‘step-family’ process. Basically this translates to a mother having to give up her biological right as the child’s mother and effectively signing her child away because the child’s birth certificate is replaced with an adoption certificate on which the natural mother is shown as the child’s adoptive mother. The Adoption Authority of Ireland, lone-parent organisations and legal practitioners have already called for changes to this legislation but nothing has changed. Fortunately, because mothers have started to speak out on the issue there has progress made towards change in this area.   

3. Older people and disability

In light of all the abuse scandals emerging from media investigations into residential care homes, there have been calls for further regulations around protection for the most vulnerable in society – older people and those with disabilities. The state and successive governments have been criticised heavily for not making accountable those who abused their employment position to inflict pain and distress on individuals who were unable to defend themselves and furthermore placed trust in these supposed care workers.

The Government has committed to improving legislation whereby any individual in residential care will be part of the decision-making process whereby they can exercise rights that impacts on every area of their life e.g. where to live, what to buy, who to be friends with and how they spend your day.

4. Alcohol

‘It shall not be lawful for any person in any county borough to sell or expose for sale any intoxicating liquor or to open or keep open any premises for the sale of intoxicating liquor or to permit any intoxicating liquor to be consumed on licensed premises at any time on Christmas Day or Good Friday.’

Some of the alcohol laws in place are there to ensure a safer and healthier environment i.e. drink-driving, legal age, etc. And generally nobody will take exception to having such restrictions remain in place. However, in the law outlined above restricting the sale of alcohol on Christmas Day and Good Friday is not such a tolerable one for Irish people any more. Because Irish society has become so diverse with many different cultures and faiths residing here now, many feel that this predominately Catholic based law – should be outlawed so to speak. Aside from this, banning the sale of alcohol on these two festive days is proving counterproductive and instead has increased sales and over-consumption with people stocking up on drink prior to those days, with some even crossing the border to obtain alcohol as UK laws do not restrict off licenses and pubs opening on either of these two days.  

5. Blasphemy

“The law defines blasphemy as publishing or saying something “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matter held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” Basically, this law states that if you take ‘the lord’s name in vain’ by saying things like ‘OMG or ‘Jesus’ then you will be prosecuted and will have to pay a €25,000 fine. Organisations such as the Humanist Association of Ireland are currently campaigning for change in this law – with Atheist Ireland meeting with Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who fully supports its removal from the constitution – as it’s a direct infringement on our freedom of speech laws plus it discriminates against other faiths and none having it remain in the constitution.  

As citizens of Ireland, the law applies to all and will inevitably affect each of our family and us if not now then possibly in the future. But the important thing to remember is that the government does not ultimately decide our laws. We do.

Grace C Vaughan lives in Meath with her online husband, offline children and smelly menagerie of hairy things.