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Guilty until proven innocent: The Orwellian “Hate Crime” Bill

We live in strange times. Go to the webpage of the Department of Justice to read about the Hate Crimes Bill that was initially put forward by Justice Minister in April 2021.

Scroll to the bottom of the page to find out the current legislative position:

“Ireland does not currently have any specific legislation to deal with hate crime. The only legislation in Ireland that deals with hate-based offences is the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989.  Although criminal hate speech is an offence, the bar is high and there have been very few prosecutions since its introduction.”

If you think that this sounds factual then you are a victim. Of brainwashing. Or wordwashing. Think about it. ‘Hate crime’ implies there is a crime. Yet, the statement, as Orwellian as you can get, says there is no specific legislation to deal with hate crime.

So, it is not a crime. But it is called a crime. But its not a crime.

This has been how the issue of ‘hate’ has been dealt with over the last few years. Described, pre-emptively as a ‘crime’ has served to inform the reader, the voter, the citizen partaking in the public consultation, that what is being discussed is in fact a crime that the government has just not got around to legislating.

This is to be treated as a matter of procedure rather than substance. You have been groomed by the Government and commentators, advocates and journalists, to read superficially into what is being discussed.

Listen to Minister McEntee

“Hate crimes tell the victim that they are not safe simply because of who they are.  They send the disgusting message to victims that they and people like them are somehow lesser than the rest of us.

“These crimes are motivated by prejudice. They make victims feel afraid for their future, their friends and their families.  They lead to a divided society, where whole communities can feel unsafe and angry.

“We must get tough and show victims that we will recognise the true harm of these crimes. And perpetrators will know that we are determined to stamp out prejudice and hate.”

The Minister echoes these words in her foreward to the report of the 2020 Public Consultation on Legislating for Hate Speech and Hate Crime in Ireland.

‘Hate crimes are signal crimes’ she opens up with. Repeatedly she refers to these ‘hate crimes’ – over and over. Yet, as of today as it was in 2020, these are not crimes.

Speaking in the Dail, the same refrain is heard from the Minister:

“hate crime is corrosive of the social solidarity and mutual understanding we need between groups in this increasingly diverse island” … “hate speech and hate crime are widespread across the Union and have been increasing over recent years” … “ I am very committed to ensuring that the legislation we introduce domestically is completely in harmony with the very important right to freedom of expression, which we all have a right to enjoy. When we think of hate speech and our own freedoms, however, we should remember that there is nothing noble or free about hate speech; instead, there are people who have been the victims of a crime and an attempt to sow hatred in our society.”

What crime has been committed if there is no legislation in place? It is not just the Minister that falls into this misleading trap. Every commentator in the Senate last week ended up in this Newspeak trap. Hate crime. Hate crime. Hate crime.

Orwell said it well: It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms.

What is being done with the words ‘hate crime’ is the destruction of words. No longer do they have any real meaning. Their normal usage is co-opted to a political end with a different meaning. This is done to manipulate you and me.

No one likes hate. Crimes are bad. Hate crimes- the worst type, crimes and hate coming together so bad that it needs criminalising. The logic is circular and there is no escape. Anyone who submitted a rebuttal to government propositions on the consultation will be lucky to find any of their thoughts projected. The report is a whitewash. It is as if no one had any concerns at all.

Now, what are these ‘hate crimes’ that are being referred to? They are words. First and foremost. Remember when you were young: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’.

The truth in that old maxim still holds today. Or at least it should, but it doesn’t.

And the words that are to be criminalised are not very well defined or defined at all. As part of the consultation, the report informs us: Rather than using narrow, legal definitions, for this report we have chosen working definitions that reflect the real-life experiences that communities have told us they experience as hate speech and hate crime.

What does that even mean? Luckily, we are advised ‘Of course any legislative definition will need to be more precisely construed’. If it wasn’t so serious – it is about making criminals of people who say things that will no longer be acceptable (to the government) and result in them going to jail – it would be funny.

The heads of the Bill currently before the Oireachtas deems the person to be guilty of an offence of hate speech if he/she:

“communicates to the public or a section of the public by any means, for the purpose of inciting, or being reckless as to whether such communication will incite, hatred against another person or group of people due to their real or perceived association with a protected characteristic.”

Sounds reasonable? If someone says something that has the purpose of inciting hatred this is crime.

But 1) how will ‘inciting hatred’ be defined? What does that constitute? 2) How will the State know the purpose?

The Dept for Justice found a great way out of this: they don’t have to demonstrate intent. It is for the accused to prove him/herself innocent. Don’t believe me? It is written to the draft bill:

“In proceedings for an offence under paragraphs (1) or (3) of this section, it shall be presumed that: – a person publishing or communicating material under paragraphs (1) or (3) knew what that material contained – understood what it meant, and – where posted on a public forum, knew it would be public speech unless that person can show, on the balance of probabilities, that this was not the case.”

Once accused, you have no way of proving yourself innocent. Law is turned on its head. And it is the Minister of Justice proposing to do this.

And to make matters worse, not even having to prove intent, you can be convicted of inciting hatred irrespective if anyone was ever incited or any harm was ever done. It says so in the bill.

Notes to the Bill explain how bizarre all of this is:

“The offence of incitement to hatred is composed of the mental element (intent or recklessness) and the act (communicating with the public or a section thereof) and does not require any actual consequences as a result of that act in order for the person to be guilty.”

It is a mental leap to understand how incitement can exist without someone being incited yet the omnipotent Ministry for Truth proposes to know what goes on inside your mind – unless you can prove them wrong.

It is unbelievable that such things are taken seriously, yet they are being debated in the Oireachtas, propose by the Government and very likely to be voted in to law.

Minister McEntee sums up what the Bill is really about in the Seanad on the 10th of March:

“There should be an ability for people to say what they want and express themselves but where that crosses the line and other people are hurt, it cannot be tolerated.”

What kind of country will we live in where the bar is set so low that if someone is hurt by words that they have had a crime committed against them? Our politicians may jump through hoops trying to explain how speech will remain free while criminalising something so subjective as causing hurt or offence but the reality will be that this legislation will be a dangerous tool in the arsenal of government and those with influence to clamp down on ideas that they do not agree with.

Irish people are a censorious enough bunch and the mob mentality witnessed with every issue of the day that arises is effective enough in clamping down on any socially unacceptable speech. But that is not enough, such is the censoriousness that there is a clamour to not only socially isolate the speakers but to lock up anyone with the temerity to speak out as well.

 


Dualta Roughneen 

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