Free Speech Ireland have said that the Prohibition of Incitement To Hatred Act, 1989 is “fit for purpose” and there is no need for the new Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022.
The grassroots organisation is dedicated to opposing the new hate speech bill with their work recently drawing the attention of prominent figures like Elon Musk, Dr. Jordan Peterson, and Conor McGregor
Speaking on the new hate speech bill which is currently before the Seanad, spokeswoman Sarah Hardiman questioned the necessity of the bill pointing to existing laws which already prohibit incitement to hatred.
Under the auspices of the 1989 Prohibition of Incitement To Hatred Act Hardiman pointed out that it is already illegal in Ireland to call for the killing of a specific group of people on the basis of a shared characteristic such as race or ethnicity.
This is something she said is needed to ensure that we can live “in a safe society,” adding that this concept isn’t something any reasonable person would oppose.
“If someone in Ireland right now decides to name an ethnic group and try to get them killed by inciting a group to do so they’ll be charged under that legislation,” she said adding that she didn’t think “anyone in the public space would have an issue with that,”
The existing law, she says, is about tackling threats to people’s lives and protecting their physical safety.
Speaking about the 2022 hate speech bill she said. “What we’re talking about here isn’t that kind of situation,” adding that the government is looking at repealing the 1989 act which she described as “fit for purpose,”
‘We’re talking about changing the concept of what safety means’, she said. adding that under the new hate speech bill the focus of protection under the law would shift from protecting physical safety to an onus of protecting people from the “idea of being offended” or “having interactions that they don’t like,”
She said that this could be triggered by something like someone saying they feel unsafe because of the opinions of another person.
Hardiman pointed to the list of ‘protected characteristics’ written into the bill which include race, colour, nationality, religion, national or ethnic origin, descent, gender, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, or disability, as well as a suggestion by interim Minister for Justice, Simon Harris, that “migration status” be included on the list.
She said the new legislation “goes far beyond indictment to violence” and allows for a perception of mistreatment to be criminalised.
She described the implications of the bill as “dangerous” saying that society had come a long way from the desire to prevent genocide to a desire to effectively “kill humour”.
She said the situation was “dire” adding that something like a meme could be subject to the law.
Pointing to suggestions by minister Simon Harris that migration status be added as a protected characteristic she said that this was an attempt to shut down discussion on issues related to the “migrant crisis” and housing crisis which she described as the result of government failure and as an “unmitigated disaster”.
Hardiman says the government “is already trying to silence this” because it’s easy to say that people critical of Ireland’s handling of the asylum system are “just racists”.
Hardiman says the “legalese” in section 10 of the law means that “if you are likely to incite hatred against a group and you may have a view of communicating it to the public” – regardless of whether communication actually occurs – you are liable to be prosecuted under the legislation.
She pointed to material relating to sex characteristics which she called ‘the topic of the day’ saying the possession of same could lead to a criminal conviction and that it was essential for people to be able to have free and open discussions on topics like biological males accessing female only spaces like toilets.
Hardiman pointed to the role of “very well funded” NGOs who she said were actively engaged in lobbying for hate speech legislation.
“These institutions are now carrying an enormous amount of wealth and clout,” she said, adding that they possess great influence and have ‘played a hand’ in making sure that the bill refers to gender identification as a protected characteristic.
She said the legislation has a “terrifying” power to limit freedom of expression and public discourse on important societal issues pointing to how people in the UK have received police visits over tweets.
Hardiman pointed to an English woman living in Northern Ireland who she says was visited by police after she had an argument online with a biological male who identifies as a woman.
“We’re conflating violence with people online who disagree with each other,” she said continuing that in this particular case a lesbian woman who is a mother and has a history of sexual abuse in childhood had expressed concern about men entering women’s bathrooms.
Hardiman said that ‘anyone with common sense’ knows that sexual predators will take full advantage of a situation which grants them unfettered access to women and children’s spaces.
“These are conversations that we have to be able to permit in our society,” she said adding “we’re not even going to get the chance to defend those positions now,”
She said that there was a need to decide on a social etiquette for online discourse instead of having “a nanny state” dictate what counts as valid academic discussion.
Hardiman says that concepts that the government “hasn’t signed off on” will now be considered “thought crimes”
“This legislation is about reading you into the concept that you should be afraid to have certain thoughts and by default silencing you,”she said adding, “How are you free in that kind of situation?”