The Thirty Seventh amendment of the constitution, which seeks to remove the reference of blasphemy from the constitution, has passed all stages in the Dáil.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan introduced the Bill this evening which, if it passes through the Seanad, will be put to voters in a referendum on 26 October - the same day as the Presidential Election.

Introducing the bill this evening, the Minister for Justice said one of the problems in addressing the topic of blasphemy was the difficulty in finding a precise meaning of the concept.

A simple definition, according to Minister Flanagan, was "an act of expressing content or irreverence for God or sacred things"; however, he said such apparent simplicity was "misleading" in terms of the complexity of the topic.

The Minister said that within an Irish context, the legal understanding of blasphemy derived from common law in England and Wales over the centuries.

He said in the late 17th Century it was linked with maintaining the Anglican religion as the established church.

"In other words there was a fundamental link between protecting the State on one hand and the religious system of belief which sustained that state on the other", he said.

The Minister said it was time to move away from the "inhibiting affect" blasphemy law may have on fundamental freedom, to affirm belief in a more inclusive and modern society.

Six opposition TDs supported the Ministers' motion in the Dáil tonight, including the Rural Independent TD Mattie McGrath.

Deputy McGrath said while its removal from the constitution was "of deep concern to a significant proportion of the population"; he noted that the 1996 constitutional review group found the offence of blasphemy unclear.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger expressed disappointment in the Government, for failing to accept amendments put forward by her group, which sought to remove all religious references from the constitution.

Deputy Coppinger said the Government was eager to be seen to move on "symbolic things", but it should be going further.

Labour Deputy Sean Sherlock questioned why, aside from blasphemy, some of the other offences outlined in Article 40 of the Constitution, like indecency or obscenity, were being kept.

Sinn Féin TD Donnacha O'Laoghaire described the bill as recognition of a modern and cultural Ireland.

He said the need for a referendum was reflective of Ireland's diverse and open society and that a referendum on the matter "should have taken place decades ago".

Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Justice expressed his party's support for the Government's motion.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan said removing blasphemy was not showing disrespect towards religions.

He said the greatest achievement of the 1937 constitution was the section on fundamental rights.

"It's a much richer and complex document than many would suggest", he said, "not just a Catholic document, for a Catholic people at a Catholic time".

The Minister for Justice concluded by thanking the opposition deputies for their support, in particular Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Minister Flanagan expressed hope that people would see the merits in the proposed deletion.