© D Storan

The covert classism of the hate speech bill

Honestly, if we’re going to keep extending the list of minorities protected by the Hate Speech bill, then I have a simple proposition: Just get right to the point and list “politicians” as a protected group, and get it over with. Because that, my friends, is the real point of this:

Minister for Justice Simon Harris is to consider including migration status as a protected category under forthcoming hate crime legislation.

The Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences Bill is intended to criminalise behaviour likely to incite violence or hatred associated with certain “protected characteristics”.

The Bill includes 10 protected characteristics including race, religion, gender and disability.

Members of the Oireachtas Justice Committee met on Tuesday to discuss amendments to the Bill.

It is obviously no coincidence that the decision to consider making “hate” against migrants illegal comes at a time when immigration is a hot political topic. The message really could not be clearer: Don’t express those opposing opinions too carelessly, or you might find a knock on the door from a concerned member of the Gardai wondering if you might have committed a crime.

The first thing to say here is that it is transparently obvious that as a piece of legislation, the hate speech bill will fail to create any meaningful criminal deterrent: We simply do not have the prison space to lock up every utterer of a casual remark about how the migrants are “coming over here, taking our jobs and our women” (per Father Ted) or whatever. If we did have the prison space, then our judiciary could hardly turn around and announce that while Jayo with 587 previous convictions gets a suspended sentence for robbing an old woman, Paddy with a clean record goes to jail for sharing the wrong meme on facebook. It is not going to wash.

But the important thing to note here is that the hate speech bill is not actually intended to result in many, if any, criminal convictions. For sure, there’ll be some: They’ll be the extreme cases, like the idiot who shouts “burn them out” at a protest and gets justifiably nicked for it. But in the main, this will not be enforced as a criminal matter.

It is, instead, designed to do three things: First, to create a little fear. Second, to create a social stigma and reduce certain political views to the kind of low-status gruntings that no civilised person could utter in civilised company. And third, to give social media companies cover, and indeed some pressure, to engage in widespread censorship and suppression.

As our old friend George Orwell might have put it, the idea is to create a kind of ungoodthink, which is at least theoretically punishable by the state, in the hope that the actual punishments will be doled out by the Irish people’s boundless energy to self-police themselves in favour of the accepted consensus.

There’s an enormous class element to this, too: Those of us who are university educated and write about politics for a living have no particular need to worry about “hate speech”, because we know what triggers the sensibilities of our left wing friends. We live amongst them. We know how they already police our thoughts, and our words, and delineate the acceptable from the unacceptable in ways that are barely perceptible to the untrained eye. For example, it is acceptable to speak in code: One saying “Ireland needs a much more balanced and controlled immigration policy” is acceptable, even, if you get them in the right mood, thoughtful. The kind of thing one can have a balanced debate about.

(The definition of a balanced debate, of course, is three people on the other side, and then poor old David Quinn, by himself, for balance).

On the other hand, one saying “Ireland has too many immigrants” is deeply unacceptable – even though those two statements amount in substance to the exact same thing. We only need a “balanced” policy, after all, because the current one is deeply imbalanced, resulting in, you guessed it, too many immigrants. But if you know the trick – talk about immigration policy, not immigrants – you’ll be fine and dandy at most civilised events. The most you’ll get is a sneer of exasperated disapproval from Fergus Finlay.

This is what the more excitable, fanatical people on the left often mean when they talk about “dog whistling”. That is the idea that people like me speak in a kind of code to our supporters, who they imagine to be slavering barbarians. Because we cannot write “too many immigrants”, they allege, we write “balanced immigration policy”, and oho! – we know what you are at! Dog whistling!

But what we are actually at is playing to their sensibilities, not those of our readers, or listeners. Some of us have grown up in a world where we know exactly what triggers the left wing outrage machine, and have learned to adapt our language to avoid hysterical reactions. Hate speech laws are for those of you who say things plainly, rather than those of us who say things in the language of Newstalk or the Irish Times.

That’s why the objective here is plain: It is to reinforce liberal sensibilities, and lock those who speak a little too plainly out of civilised society. If you want to take part, go to University, spend five years listening to lectures from progressive academics, and see if you still feel as you do. That’s the message.

After all, nobody wants to be like those barbarians in Finglas, or East Wall. Right?

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