“Shut them up!” After Oughterard, new calls for hate speech laws

This weekend’s Sunday Times featured a chillingly authoritarian line from influential columnist Justine McCarthy, writing in frustration at events in Oughterard last week. Emphasis mine:

“The people who repeat these mantras call themselves “the silent majority”. They are neither. They are, in fact, a minority in a country that has repeatedly shown itself to be tolerant and welcoming. When people were fleeing war in Syria and the world’s authorities were frozen with indecision, Irish families queued up to give the refugees a bed. Any racists are no more than a noisy minority.

The danger is they could become a majority if politicians continue fanning their flames with impunity. That is why we urgently need hate crime legislation. If public pressure can’t do it, the law will make them wash their mouths out.

That doesn’t need much translation – “if we cannot shame you into shutting up, we will make you a criminal for speaking”.

McCarthy is by no means the first member of the Irish establishment to call for hate speech laws. They have been a favoured cause of Ireland’s well-heeled, taxpayer-funded charity sector for some time now. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, of all organisations, is at the forefront of the drive to ban you from saying some things. The Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, welcomed the ICCL’s call for hate speech laws earlier in the year:

“This report on hate crime is a hugely important piece of research, and makes a series of recommendations on how our criminal justice system can do better in combatting hatred.

These recommendations include changes to legislation on incitement to hatred and sentencing, better reporting and recording of hate-motivated crimes, enhanced procedures for the investigation of such crimes, and training and guidelines for prosecutors.  They are a very valuable contribution to the development of improved policy and procedures in this important area.

The Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 is already being reviewed by my Department and this report will of course feed into that process.

More generally, I am making arrangements for this report and its recommendations to be urgently examined by my Department, in consultation with all of the relevant agencies, including of course the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, with the aim of bringing forward proposals to address the findings of the report.”

In the aftermath of Oughterard, we can expect such proposals to be fast-tracked.

The point of a hate-speech law, in theory, is to prevent people from saying things that might lead to public disorder or discrimination or violence. So, for example, if I was to say to you that Minister Flanagan is a threat to Ireland who should be removed from office at any cost, the thinking is that somewhere out there, one of you might read my words and decide to shoot Minister Flanagan, and that this would be my fault. That, of course, is nonsense.

Applied to a situation like Oughterard, the theory is that by saying that some migrants are “spongers”, Noel Grealish TD encouraged hatred of those migrants, and therefore should be considered to have committed a crime.

Those who oppose immigration, or, to be more accurate, those who feel immigration is too high, are the prime targets of such laws.

But of course, the problem with hate speech laws is that they are not, and never can be, applied fairly. The reason for this is that the left, which supports hate speech laws, does not intend for them ever to be applied fairly. For example: When a left-wing politician says that the Catholic Church is a malign influence on Ireland, is there not a risk that that politician is inciting the vandalisation of churches? What if a Green politician says that Oil Companies are destroying the planet – is there not a risk that someone will be inflamed enough by those words to attack an oil company?

And of course, what about those feminists who rail against white male privilege, or hold up signs saying “kill all men”? Is that hate speech, or is it just edgy freedom of expression?

The left believes itself completely incapable of hate. “We speak out bravely, but you incite hatred” – that’s the mantra. Ireland has a political elite that is convinced of its own goodness, and utterly convinced of the sheer badness of anyone who might oppose it. It does not for one second ever fear that hate speech laws might backfire on it, because the truth is that those laws are explicitly targeted at its opponents.

And so, make no mistake, hate speech laws are not about hate speech at all. They are, very deliberately, designed to close down debate and restrict our freedom to talk about things that matter to us.

Politicians who wish to limit the number of things you can talk about, and the way in which you can talk about them, are not your friends. They are, and always will be, the enemies of a free society.

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