The Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) has marked the first anniversary of the murder of Shabhaz Bhatti, Pakistani Federal Minister for Minorities, by holding a Topical Issues debate in which cross-party support was expressed by TDs (Teachta Dála - member of parliament) for the reform of Pakistan's blasphemy law.
Joanna Tuffy TD (Labour), who introduced the debate, stated, "A great deal of pressure is exerted internally in Pakistan not to reform the blasphemy laws. There are different reforms that could be introduced. Many convictions are achieved in the lower courts and it has been proposed that such matters should, in the first instance, be dealt with in the higher courts. It is important that a friendly country such as Ireland put pressure on Pakistan to reform the laws and the government will need the support of other countries in doing so."
Robert Troy TD (Fianna Fáil) said, "I support this because I consider the recognition of a crime of blasphemy to offend the basic human rights of freedom of religion and speech. I believe all governments have a duty to protect their citizens from violent religious extremists."
Maureen O'Sullivan TD (Independent) said, "Ireland is seeking election to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2013-2015 term, and we deserve that seat. We have a fine reputation in respect of relationships with other countries and with regard to our development aid budget... I believe it has a role in this regard, even though it concerns a country that is far distant from Ireland. In common with my colleagues, I advocate marking this anniversary by reiterating our support for Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD (Sinn Féin spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Trade) said, "Unfortunately, and sadly, many countries lack genuine religious freedom, which is a fundamental human right. Huge challenges exist in Pakistan for its Government to grapple with, but it has not met these challenges to date... the purpose of raising this Topical Issue matter is to show solidarity and unity... We are partners with Pakistan in the global community. While it has an embassy in and relationships with this country which we value immensely, this issue must be addressed. I hope the Tánaiste [Deputy Prime Minister] and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will meet the Pakistani ambassador on foot of this topical matter and will engage with the Pakistani Government to convey the concerns of his House to it and to ask it to address these issues".
Replying for the government, Joan Burton TD (Minister for Social Protection) said, "In the view of Ireland and its EU partners, the blasphemy laws in their current form are open to abuse. Most recently in the EU-Pakistan dialogue on human rights that took place in February 2012, the EU expressed concerns at the rise of fundamentalist and sectarian violence and encouraged the Government of Pakistan to reform the blasphemy laws, emphasising nevertheless that the response needs to be broader and that real efforts to counter intolerance must come from Pakistan itself.
"The Pakistani Government has made commitments to protect religious minorities and to promote religious tolerance. However, real and tangible progress on the ground is what is required. I urge the Pakistani Government to resolve Mrs. [Asia] Bibi's case as soon as possible and to initiate a thorough review of its blasphemy law, including the use of the death penalty... Mrs. Bibi's case will continue to be followed closely by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and officials in his Department will remain in contact with the Pakistani authorities on this matter."
A full transcript of the debate is available on the Oireachtas website http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2012/03/07/00023.asp