As the Dáil voted overwhelmingly to pass “hate speech” legislation it was ironically Paul Murphy, a TD from the far-left, who made the last meaningful attempt to amend it.
I use that term because the origin of modern hate speech is in the legal codes of the former Soviet Union and its satellites which made the possession of written material or even the expression of opinion a criminal offence.
While there was some reference in the limited debate on the legislation here on the requirements of international law on these matters, when the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was being framed in 1948 the Stalinist states argued strongly for a provision for states to restrict the right to freedom of expression. That was rejected and the current Article 19 explicitly defends that right.
The Irish Bill that was approved last Wednesday is clearly an attempt to delimit that right, no matter what way it is parsed or justified.
Following the defeat of amendments from Murphy which sought to distinguish between actual crimes and what he described as “thought crimes,” just 14 TDs opposed the final passing of the Bill by the Dáil.
They included the four People Before Profits TDs, eight TDs who are either members of the Rural Independent Group or other rural independents, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín, and Leas Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly. An unusually high number of TDs, 36, who did not bother showing up at all.
Whatever the reasons for the absences, the vote reflected the fact that there had been little or no debate either in Leinster House or within society at large on what is a significant piece of legislation.
Murphy, speaking to his amendments, and Minister James Browne opposing, were the only speakers at Report Stage.
The small number of TDS who were opposed to the Bill, including Murphy and Mattie McGrath and Tóibín had pointed out during the Dáil debate the implications that it has for the exercise of free speech and opinion, and the possibility of criminalising protests. Again, Murphy in his contribution to the debate last November, did at least recognise that sections of the Bill provides the state with potentially sweeping powers to prosecute legitimate forms of protest and expression, including from the left.
That is the point. While the current consensus across the Government and main opposition parties is clearly and militantly left-liberal, the inclusion of arbitrary definitions of what constitutes “hate” or “hatred” are definitions that can simply be redefined. If opposing transgenderism can be constituted as hate speech on a vote, then so can Marxism.
Contributions from supporters of the Bill, both Government and “opposition,” reflected both the fact that many had simply cut and pasted briefing materials sent by NGOs, and the actual absurdity of the proposals if enacted. For example, Deputy Murnane O’Connor in her name check of “protected groups” refereed to a potential “victim of a crime because of their race, colour, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or disability – visible or invisible.”
Which I think means that the accused might be guilty of a hate crime against another person on the grounds that the victim might be the possessor of a characteristic in the intersectional hierarchy of victimhood that is not even apparent to the person who does something beastly to them.
This is almost the definition of ‘Kafkaesque,’ the committing of a crime of which no one including the person charged nor their accuser seems to be able to state exactly what it consisted of.
None of which excuses any actual crime; crime being as generally understood. What hate crime purports to do is to aggravate any such crime by adding a tariff should the victim be a member of a “protected group,” and more importantly should the perpetrator be, well, a white straight male basically.
So hard luck if you happen to be a victim who is not a protected category of citizen but rather one burdened with the weight of historical guilt for being born as you are.
Likewise, if you are a member of a “protected group” who is robbed, beaten, raped or otherwise victimised by a perpetrator who also happens to be a member of a “protected group. Under such legislation, the vast majority of black victims of crime in the United States, for example, could not be included among the victims of hate crime because the person who has victimised them is also statistically overwhelmingly likely to also have been black.
The current Bill does not even purport to deal with crime as generally understood, but with the incitement to hate crime. This is part of the framework to create a category of “aggravated offences,” but Section 7 specifically creates a whole new offence which Murphy rightly identifies as “thought crime,” because it is based on the communication of ideas.
Now, while the vacuous lobby fodder – who for argument’s sake constitute the bulk of Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrat and other left liberal formations as well as the Government TDs who have no choice – just take their cue from their civil arm in the NGO and legal businesses, I will grant the Trotskyist TDs the benefit that at least they know their history.
They know that this sort of attempt to restrict freedom of expression has its roots in totalitarianism, whether of the Stalinist or Nazi strains. Trotskyists themselves were the victims of the Stalinists who imprisoned and murdered them for what they believed, said and wrote.
For many Shinners, judging by the social media nonsense they share, they not only look upon Stalinism as some cuddly meme, but have little or no knowledge of their own history – or rather the history of the movement on whose backs they built their careers.
Peadar Tóibín had to point out to them the total incongruity of a party that was once banned under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act supporting a Bill that “will encroach on people’s ability to speak freely and respectfully about issues of real importance.”
Now, while some might argue that Section 31 was required because Sinn Féin at the time it was in force supported the Provisional IRA, it was pointed out by other opponents of Section 31 that the atmosphere put in place by such state censorship led to much wider restrictions. Ballads about 1798 or An Gorta Mór for example were effectively but unofficially banned.
In the 1970s and 80s, broadcasters including those in the newly founded Raidió na Gaeltachta were constantly aware that the husband of one of the great Irish poets, Máire Mac an tSaoi might have set Special Branch gaelgeoirí or their informants upon them to monitor what hatred they might be disseminating.
There is little danger of any such subversion within Montrose or Casla these times, but the point remains. Once people are uncertain about how what they say or write might be interpreted by the state or its agents this leads to self-censorship and fear. Which is the point perhaps.
And perhaps I do Sinn Féin and others a disservice in under-estimating their appreciation of where all this might end.