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”. Senator Michael McDowell said she had raised “very important points ” in regard to the bill.
She said that “restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression emerging not only from governmental action but also from movements which seek to articulate a particular ideology to the exclusion of all others.”
And she pointed out that: “The language of this bill is so loose that it will introduce great uncertainty about what actually constitutes a crime.”
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”.
She said the rights to freedom of speech and expression “so vitally important to the operation of democratic societies have been incrementally undermined particularly during the last few years.”
Baroness O’Loan said that the author, JK Rowling, “was subjected to a vicious campaign of hate because she said that transwomen were not women – she said that they should be able to live their lives “in peace and security” but also said that women working in universities as academics should not be forced out of their jobs for stating that sex is real and does exist.”
“The reality is that there is a movement which seeks to limit our use of language in certain ways and which is part of a culture war – for example the recent Oxfam Guide to Inclusive Language states that the word “mother” should not be used: the word “parent” is to be preferred; this from an organisation which exists, among other things, to help those mothers who struggle in terrible situations to provide food, water and safety for their families, especially their children! When I saw that guide I decided that I would never again donate to Oxfam,” she wrote.
She said that on issues such as gender ideology, abortion, assisted suicide and more there are “profound questions for any society to ponder. In so doing, it is essential to do so with care and compassion for all those who may be affected, and also to be honest about all the issues.”
The former Police Ombudsman said that the hate speech bill now before the Seanad would “expand the current law and introduce new criminal offences resulting on conviction in lengthy prison sentences.”
“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.
Senator Michael McDowell told the Irish Daily Mail that Baroness O’Loan has raised “some very important points in regard to the legislation.”
“We’re creating criminal offences. I want certainty as to what they mean, he said. “I want someone to say how far can I go about expressing an opinion. I want to know very clearly: its this far and no further.”
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.
Speaking at a Free Speech Ireland event in Dublin, Senator Sharon Keogan said the government’s new hate speech bill is partly designed to keep political dissenters quiet. pic.twitter.com/mpYkgxQIHj
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However, supporters of the legislation say the measure is necessary to combat rising levels of hate crime.