Senator Michael McDowell, who is also a former Attorney General, has said that the Hate Speech bill which passed through the Dáil was not subject to questioning because TDs are afraid of being seen as opposing “a woke agenda”.
The Independent Senator told the Irish Daily Mail that the bill “got a majority support in the Dáil because I think a lot of people were afraid of being seen as questioning woke agenda”.
He also said that the legislation “didn’t get adequate consideration [in the Dáil], and some valuable amendments weren’t accepted, such as definitions of hatred and things like that.”
High profile members of the Seanad and other commentators have been sharply critical of the Bill, saying it will curtail free speech, could make a criminal offence of opinion, and have warned that it may be used to quell political dissent.
It has also been pointed out by Senator Rónán Mullen that a very low threshold will be required for Gardai to become involved – with only a “perception” of hateful conduct required.
Concern has also been raised regarding the sweeping powers given under the proposal, given that it would be an offence for any person, when a search warrant has been issued under this legislation, to refuse to provide police with their computer or phone passwords.
Free Speech Ireland Director Alex Sheridan told Gript: “Judging by the poorly attended debate before the Dáil vote, to which only four TDs showed up, not even our own representatives in the Oireachtas were aware of the deep flaws within this legislation and their potential implications.”
He added: “We hope now that the Bill can be heavily amended in the Seanad.”
The legislation has attracted international criticism, with Twitter’s Elon Musk saying that the bill was a “massive attack on freedom of speech”.
An investigation by Ben Scallan of Gript, which examined 3,597 submissions to the government’s consultation on the bill, both in the form of written submissions and surveys, revealed 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, Scallan wrote.
An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar’s response to the revelation that the government was ignoring the result of the consultation went viral.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defends disregarding the results of the public consultation on "hate speech" laws, arguing that "very often" such consultations are hijacked by "campaigning groups" and are not "reflective of public opinion."#gript pic.twitter.com/X6EC0uF6NO
— gript (@griptmedia) May 4, 2023