What to Expect from Irish Hate Speech Laws

In the pipes since it was smuggled into the Programme for Government, we received a clear outline of the impending hate speech laws looking to make their way onto the statute books. Previously, this publication has covered the lobbying process which occurred throughout 2020, as well as the process by which An Garda Síochána is gearing up their resources to implement the new hate speech regime. With the Department of Justice having published the text of the Bill which will now make its way to the Oireachtas, we have a clearer sense of how deep the legislation will cut.

While in theory we will avoid some of the overreach seen with UK-style hate speech laws, the Republic will face fairly gnarly speech codes (albeit totally dependent on the state’s willingness and capability to enforce its own writ). One expects, similar to recent cases in Traleeor Balbriggan, strategic highly covered show trials, rather than enforcement en masse to crack the whip hand over the population.

The text of the legislation is available from the Department of Justice, with the proposed Bill being titled the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021.

Some key points to note are:

  • Despite mentioning hate crime in the title this Bill very much deals with hate speech. While there are a few similar Bills loitering around the Seanad, this will be the Bill which will bring the Republic into line with Western Europe, as per the instructions of the NGO lobby.
  • Under proposed hate speech legislation those convicted could face imprisonment of up to 5 years upon conviction on indictment, or a year upon summary conviction, with fines of up to €5000 being issued.
  • The definition of hate speech is given as  anyone who ‘communicates to the public or a section of the public by any means, for the purpose of inciting, or being reckless as to whether such communication will incite, hatred against another person or group of people due to their real or perceived association with a protected characteristic.’ 
  • The sharing of hate speech related content equally counts as an offence with a potential jail term of up to 2 years.
  • Allowances are made for ‘genuine contributions’ to scientific, political and artistic discourse, as well as Oireachtas statements.
  • For social media platforms, they are absolved from prosecution for hosting hateful content only if they have effective measures in place to prevent hate speech. It basically puts a gun to head of tech companies to beef up censorship.
  • Among the protected groups are Irish travellers as well as transgender individuals.
  • Those located outside of the State are culpable of hate speech if their broadcasts are deemed hateful.
  • Regarding hate crime, the Bill desires amendments to 1997 Non-Fatal Offences Act to take into account prejudice as a motivating factor in a physical crime.
  • Those who are found to have been motivated by hate when committing a violent crime may have sentences imposed on them of up to 12 years upon conviction. 
  • Regarding evidence for hate as a motivating factor, membership of a ‘hate group’, patterns in previous assaults, online utterances, and witness testimony among other things will be taken into account.

To reiterate, the State does already have in principle rather robust anti-incitement legislation which is increasingly being rolled out for more racist speech. However this is felt to be too soft by some of our NGO lobby.

The legislation will now make its way to the Oireachtas for its first reading, before entering into committee stage for debate and amendments. There are various intervals by which this may be frustrated not least by a turbulent parliamentary calendar brought about by covid instability.

In finishing, if you’ve made it this far into the article, you can rest assured this legislation is tailored for you and anyone who breaks ranks on liberal hegemony in this country. In recognition of the chances of populism to grow in electoral and cultural strength, hate speech has been fast-tracked. Deep down, Leinster House is a lot more jittery than it would care to admit.

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  • Niall McConnell
    published this page in News 2021-04-21 12:58:32 +0100
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