Those of us who regularly watch the mainstream media in Ireland could be forgiven for not having heard much about the new hate speech laws which have been more or less approved by the Irish Government in recent months.
Regardless of the fact that Ireland has had laws against incitement to hatred on the books since 1989, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee spearheaded these new hate speech laws ‘with teeth’ in order to effectively criminalise thoughts that might cause ‘hate’ in a subjective manner.
Although comments and retweets on Twitter by Elon Musk and Dr. Jordan Peterson have caused some media bigwigs to mention the bill recently, Free Speech Ireland Director Alex Sheridan told Gript, “It is regrettable that only now” after the attention drawn by the high profile commenters, “that the Bill has gained attention in Ireland.”
“Judging by the poorly attended debate before the Dáil vote, to which only four TDs showed up, not even our own representatives in the Oireachtas were aware of the deep flaws within this legislation and their potential implications,” he said, adding “We hope now that the Bill can be heavily amended in the Seanad.”
Four ways this bill could affect you –
Number One: According to Oireachtas documents the new legislation defines “hatred” as “hatred against a person or a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their protected characteristics or any one of those characteristics,”
In the wording of the Bill “protected characteristic” refers to a broad spectrum of things including race, colour, nationality, religion, national or ethnic origin, descent, gender, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, or disability.
Minister Simon Harris has also said that migration status may be added to the long list of protected characteristics, meaning enquiry into the legality of a person’s presence in this country may be considered a criminal offence under the new law.
Gender is listed as a protected characteristic defined as “the gender of a person or the gender which a person expresses as the person’s preferred gender or with which the person identifies and includes transgender and a gender other than those of male and female”, this effectively means that if a woman were to take exception to a biological male using female bathrooms or changing facilities she could be arrested and prosecuted for a hate crime.
Penalties include jail terms of up to five years.
Could this happen to you?
Shockingly the bill means that an entirely subjective report of merely ‘feeling hatred’ from another person is sufficient for an offence to be reported and the onus is on the accused to prove their innocence.
But how can one argue that the subjective feelings of another person were mistaken when subjectivity is all that is required for the law to take effect?
Number Two: Sharing or possessing ‘hateful’ information
As People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy recently highlighted, a person can be criminalised simply for being in possession of material that someone else subjectively finds hateful, even if the material is not disseminated.
A person can be found guilty regardless of whether the material was “successful in inciting another person to violence or hatred against a person or a group of persons on account of their protected characteristics,”.
Legislating for "the creation of a thought crime."
Congratulations to @paulmurphy_TD for this outstanding defence of Free Speech today in Dáil Éireann.
We need more opposition TDs to stand up the dystopian repercussions of this Hate Speech bill. pic.twitter.com/gCEGpLgR3O
— Free Speech Ireland (@FreeSpeechIre) April 26, 2023
In the bill “material” means “anything that is capable of being looked at, read, watched or listened to, either directly or after conversion from data stored in another form,”
Reporting on the Let Women Speak event in Belfast last month, this writer was offered some stickers by a lady in attendance which read, “Single sex facility, women only,” and feature the suffragette tricolour.
Out of politeness I took them from her and put them in my bag where they remained until quite recently.
Now, if it were to be discovered by a biological male who identifies as female and wishes to use women’s spaces that I have those stickers – regardless of why or how – he could report me for incitement to hatred against trans people and I might just find myself in jail for up to five years.
So while the law presents itself as dealing with speech, it actually also criminalises the possession of material even where there is no solid evidence that the person had intended to spread or use the material, or even agrees with the views expressed therein.
Again, the onus is on the accused to prove themselves innocent of the accusation of something as subjective as ‘hatred’.
There exists a defence of the material being in line with “reasonable and genuine contribution” in relation to literary, artistic, political, scientific, religious or academic discourse, but again in 2023 who defines what ‘reasonable’ or ‘genuine’ means?
Number Three: Preparing material likely to cause offence
Under the law it could be determined that posters and banners used at protests “incite violence or hatred” against people with protected characteristics.
It is important to remember that in law, the categorisation of ‘incitement to violence or hatred’ means that both ‘violence’ and ‘hatred’ carry equal weight.
Anyone engaging in protests like those which have recently been taking place in areas like East Wall could be accused and prosecuted for incitement to hatred for expressing concern about the placement of hundreds of asylum seekers in their area.
A person guilty of an offence under this section will be liable for “on summary conviction, to a class C fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both”, or “on conviction on indictment, to a class A fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or both,”.
Number Four: You could go to jail for refusing to provide your passwords
You could find yourself in the clink if you refuse to provide the Gardaí with passwords to your personal information such as on your computer if accused of a hate crime for reasons not limited to those set out above.
The bill states that it is an offence to refuse to provide police with “any password necessary to operate it and any encryption key or code necessary to unencrypt the information accessible by the computer.”
As reported by Gript’s Gary Kavanagh, a computer is defined, in the legislation, as “a personal organiser or any other electronic means of information storage and retrieval.”
Those who refuse to hand over this information will be guilty of an offence and will be liable for a fine of €5,000 and imprisonment for up to 12 months.