A member of the Irish government’s new anti-misinformation force, the Electoral Commission, recently chaired a group which urged the government to implement “hate speech” laws.
Professor Caroline Fennell, in addition to being a member of the Electoral Commission since its establishment in February of this year, also served as the chairperson of the Anti-Racism Committee, which developed the Irish government’s National Action Plan Against Racism.
“I am delighted to see the publication of the National Action Plan,” Fennell said when the document was released in March of this year, adding that “Ireland has a real appetite for change.”
FIGHTING “HATE SPEECH”
This plan contains a list of “priority actions,” including stamping out alleged “hate speech” online.
“Balanced representation of minority ethnic groups throughout community initiatives, across the political spectrum, and across all forms of media is an important marker of a society that aspires to racial equality,” the plan reads.
“Priority actions under this objective seek to…counteract the spread of racist hate content online.”
The document specifically outlines that the government must “take steps to ensure that measures to eliminate the dissemination of hate speech online are effective and have regard to the local context in Ireland.”
The plan also makes specific reference to the government’s controversial Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022, which is being spearheaded by Justice Minister Helen McEntee.
“The government is developing further legislation to strengthen protections from hate crime and hate speech, including online,” the text reads.
“Ireland is taking action to strengthen legal provisions to address hate crime. The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 was published on 27 October 2022 and has completed Committee Stage in the Dáil.”
It further states: “The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 (now under review as part of the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022) has provisions against racist hate speech.”
CHALLENGING THE “FAR RIGHT”
In addition to being a member of the Electoral Commission, until May of this year, Fennell was also a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), which is the government’s official human rights watchdog. The group receives €7.6 million per year in taxpayer funding.
In February of this year, while Fennell was a member of both IHREC and the Electoral Commission, the former group was publicly warning that Ireland was witnessing “a growth in…far-right organising, which needs to be robustly challenged.”
The previous year – again, while Fennell was a member – IHREC also made a submission to the government on the hate speech bill, saying that the government had an “obligation” to pursue it to address “far-right organising.”
“The Commission welcomes the legislative proposals to address incitement to hatred and hate crime,” the group wrote.
“These legislative proposals are timely as Ireland is witnessing a growth in racist and far right organising in Ireland, which has seen an escalation in incidents of far-right rhetoric and racist hate crime.
“This context underscores the need for leadership across the State to address such movements and racist discourse, and ensure Ireland maintains its commitment to international human rights norms. Countering racism and hate speech is imperative to the building of acceptance of diversity and respect for the dignity of all persons.”
The group added: “Enacting this legislation is part of the State’s positive obligation to ensure a favourable environment exists for freedom of expression and participation in public debate without fear.”
This week Gript asked the Electoral Commission a series of questions at a press event, during which the group said it had “very extensive powers” to “require the correction or removal of information we believe to be incorrect” – all in an effort to “enhance democracy.” That clip can be viewed below.
The Irish government's new anti-misinformation force, the Electoral Commission, says it has "very extensive powers" to "require the correction or removal of information we believe to be incorrect" – all in an effort to "enhance democracy." Question by @Ben_Scallan #gript pic.twitter.com/nMlixyGM2q
— gript (@griptmedia) August 30, 2023