Free Speech Ireland sends list of concerns over ‘Hate Speech’ bill to Oireachtas members

“vague and subjective criteria”

Free Speech Ireland have sent a list of concerns to every member of the Oireachtas as Dáil Éireann begins its first debate on Minister for Justice Helen McEntee’s Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022. 

The group who previously told Gript about their reservations regarding the bill, are ‘deeply concerned’ about the lack of definition of terms in the legislation which they say could lead to people being prosecuted for sharing information on social media. 

“We are concerned that ill-defined and unclear aspects of the bill will result in limitations being placed on people’s right to freedom of expression and that this is an unproductive use of Garda resources.”

FSI outlined issues with sections 7 to 11 “in particular” saying section 7, “Establishes that a person may be found guilty of an offence if the person “communicates material to the public or a section of the public” .

“This not only opens an individual to prosecution for personal statements made, but also for the sharing of content on social media, even if published by another user in a separate country or jurisdiction.”

The group draws attention to part 3 of this section which  “states that “it shall be a defence to prove that the material concerned or, insofar as appropriate,” if the contribution is considered “genuine” or “reasonable”.

“These are vague and subjective criteria that may see an individual fined or imprisoned for up to 5 years.” it says 

FSI say section 8 “Broadly covers the communication of material relating to genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.”

Adding that it “fails to make provisions for the sharing of material published by another individual or entity.”

This, the group says,  “opens a person to prosecution for sharing of historical articles or news items that may not reflect the contemporary views of Irish society.”

“Furthermore this could also affect the communication of material from a foreign culture or country where world views may differ to our own.”

Under section 9 of the legislation FSI says “a person may be found guilty irrespective of whether communication of material or behaviour was successful in inciting another person to violence or hatred. This would penalise individuals as a result of gross speculation.”

Under section 9 of the legislation FSI says “a person may be found guilty irrespective of whether communication of material or behaviour was successful in inciting another person to violence or hatred. This would penalise individuals as a result of gross speculation.”

Pointing to section 10 the group says,  “The possession of material which is not considered “reasonable” or a “genuine contribution” shall be an offence.”

Adding that as with Section 7, “these are subjective criteria and are deeply concerning as the bill does not establish what is considered a “reasonable” or “genuine contribution”. It is vital that lawful expression is not restricted by the Government.”

The final section flagged by the group as being of special concern is 11 wherein FSI says “There is a concerning limited and ill-defined “Protection Of Freedom Of Expression” afforded by the bill” 

Adding that this sections “is no more than four lines, and does not establish clear protections for Freedom of Speech” 

FSI concludes the statement by recommending that legislators reject the bill in its current form and “take steps to expand protections against harassment” instead of “broadly” restricting the speech of “all individuals”. 

 

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