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Hate speech consultation received mostly negative responses

The Irish government is proceeding with legislation to outlaw so-called “hate speech” – even after the vast majority of respondents to their public consultation expressed opposition to the idea, Gript can reveal.

Last October, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said that the The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 was being crafted following “extensive public consultation and research.”

This consultation on hate speech was conducted in late 2019, and gave members of the general public an opportunity to submit their views on whether or not Ireland’s speech laws should be updated. Individuals were allowed to submit letters outlining their views, and also respond to a survey with a list of pre-prepared questions.

In total, this consultation garnered around 3,600 responses.

However, Gript has now individually analysed 3,597 submissions in total, both in the form of written submissions and surveys, and can reveal that the overwhelming majority of responses from private individuals expressed negative views towards the government’s policy.

A total of 73% of respondents to the government’s consultation – 2627 individuals total – did not support the government’s plan to ban hate speech. Many argued that the only valid restriction on free speech should be credible threats or incitements to violence, but stressed that simple offensive speech should not be criminalised.

One such respondent argued that “freedom of expression is much more important than protecting sensitive people’s feelings,” while another said: “I’m offended by the government quite often – but they are entitled to their opinion like I am.” Many appealed to the idea of free speech as a human and constitutional right, while others insisted that governments regulating speech was a common feature of totalitarian countries like China.

Only 24.1% of respondents, or 868 people, expressed support for the idea of non-violent hate speech being criminalised.

Meanwhile, 33 people (0.9%) were conflicted about the issue. These individuals expressed a desire for hate speech laws in principle, but also articulated serious free speech concerns about the law’s implementation. As such, they did not come down definitively on one side or the other.

69 individuals (1.9%) gave vague or ambiguous responses, where it was difficult to ascertain which side of the debate they were on.

Despite the landslide opposition to the policy, however, the government lauded the volume of responses to the consultation as a reason to proceed with the plan.

“Hate Speech can lead to hate crime,” the Department of Justice said in a statement following the submissions.

“Today @HMcEntee launches findings of consultation that received over 3.6k submissions that will lead to new hate crime laws in Ireland. Legislation is now being developed.”

Minister McEntee added: “I encourage everyone to have their say and engage with us as we draft this legislation.”

The government’s hate speech bill ultimately passed overwhelmingly in the Dáil this week, with the support of all government parties, and even opposition parties such as Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats, and the Labour Party. In total, it was approved by an overwhelming 110 votes in favour, with only 14 TDs opposed.







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