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Former Garda Inspector: hate speech law might make things worse for minorities

A former Garda inspector who helped found the National Diversity Bureau in the force has told the Irish Times that the “aggravated sentencing” in the Hate Speech Bill may worsen things for minorities.

Dr Dave McInerney, who the paper says was “a Garda inspector of 43 years standing” until last month said that he believed minority communities has concerns about the legislation criminalising speech.

“I’d be afraid that this new aggravated sentencing could cause a lot of upset in the community,” he told The Irish Times.

“That’s not coming from me. It’s coming from minority community leaders themselves who would say to me, David, we don’t want to see Irish people get a big sentence in the courts because they said a bad word to a black person or whatever.”

McInerney, who holds a PhD in policing minority communities, says: “One hate crime is too many… I’ve dealt with so many victims of hate crime and the after-effects are horrible.”

However, people don’t want the type of strict sentencing codes used in the UK and elsewhere in the EU, which served as a template for the Irish Bill, he says. “People tell me we’re happy the way things are in Ireland.”

These are concerns he has raised with the Minister for Justice, he says.

The hate speech legislation is now with the Seanad, having passed quickly through the Dáil.

Critics believe it is an unprecedented measure which could be used to shut down political opinion or criminalise speech which criticised state policy on controversial issues such as transgenderism in schools.

Last week, the former Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland, Nuala O’Loan, has said that proposed hate-speech legislation “has the capacity to do immense damage to free speech and democracy in Ireland.”

Writing in the Irish Catholic, Baroness O’Loan, who was the first person to hold the role of Police Ombudsman in the north, said that free speech rights, “so vitally important to the operation of democratic societies”  have been “incrementally undermined particularly during the last few years”.

“The language of this bill is so loose that it will introduce great uncertainty about what actually constitutes a crime,” the widely respected legal expert wrote.

“The maximum penalty for this offence is five years in jail. This bill may be well intentioned, it has a wider application, but it contains some very questionable provisions. It is described as a bill to protect, but it has the capacity to do immense damage to free speech and democracy in Ireland,” she concluded.

The hate speech bill has been described as been designed for the arbitrary restriction of free speech, with Senator Sharon Keogan saying it would be used to keep political dissenters quiet.

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