A truly remarkable contribution, in the Dáil, last week, from Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe:
Cathal Crowe, Fianna Fáil, slanders the Irish Freedom Party, claiming they campaign on hate and that they have no right to speak on issues such as migration and gender issues. pic.twitter.com/uIl8l4UlMO
— JRD (@JRD0000) March 10, 2022
Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that “practition” is not a word, and that the Irish Freedom Party doesn’t “practition” anything. Crowe’s speech claims that they practice messaging “along the lines of gender, and transgender, and immigration, these are the issues they campaign on”. So far, so normal.
But he goes on, then, remarkably, to say that “they have no right” to campaign on these issues, and that they will have “less of a right” to campaign on those issues once we “sign up to this”, and that “any form of inciting on those issues” will be “in the form of illegality”
The “this”, in question, by the way, is Ireland’s decision to sign up to an EU directive widening the list of EU crimes to include hate crime and hate speech.
Deputy Crowe’s speech, naturally enough, has not been covered anywhere else in the media. It should have been.
After all, what he is saying is that in his view, it should be illegal to campaign on issues about gender, transgender rights, and immigration. This is, of course, presented as a campaign against hate speech and incitement to hatred. What it really is, of course, is a campaign against choice.
After all, in a democracy, voters have a say on the political decisions that are made. And when you say that issues cannot be presented to the voters for them to adjudicate on in an election, what you are really saying is that voters have no right to make decisions on these issues. You are removing the most fundamental right in a democracy, which is the right to make an appeal to your fellow citizens.
Nor, it should be noted, is such sentiment limited to the Irish Freedom Party. That Party’s position is that Ireland should leave the European Union, which makes its prospects for success questionable to begin with. There is, even the party’s most ardent supporters would admit, little prospect of it surging to power in the coming years.
But this law will not simply apply to the Irish Freedom Party. It will apply to everybody – me, as an author, you, as a voter, and your family and friends. To express the wrong idea about say, transgender rights, is to become (at least on paper) a crime. Punishable by the state.
You may, of course, still think these things, but you must not say them. And you may only still think them, one suspects, because those who favour such laws have yet to develop a reliable mind-reading technology.
Frankly, it is not hard to imagine what the reaction would be if the roles were reversed here: Imagine if IFP Leader Hermann Kelly gave a speech at some rally announcing that, if he ever took power, it would be illegal to campaign in favour of more immigration. That, you suspect, might make the news. It might even prompt a column or two about the open appearance in our society of fascist elements who desired to threaten freedom.
So why the absence of it in this case? This is, after all, a politician explicitly calling for the silencing of his political opponents. Openly. Without apology. We’d happily call it fascism if others were doing it.
The truth is that this, like so many other laws, is a law about protecting the establishment from criticism: Irish politicians do not like talking about these issues. Ask an Irish Party leader a question like “what is a woman” or “What is a sustainable level of immigration” and watch them sweat. It makes their lives much easier if such questions are not asked at all.
In a sane country, Cathal Crowe’s remarks above would be universally regarded as the most disgraceful thing said by an Irish politician in the last several years. As it is, you won’t read that he even made them, anywhere else. We’re in a bad place, when it comes to free speech. We’re much more concerned about free speech in Russia than we are about free speech in Ireland.