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Two troubling questions about the Hate Speech Bill

I have two troubling questions about the Hate Offences Bill, currently before the Seanad, and to all appearances, about to become law in the near future:

  1. What sort of people will bring cases under this legislation?
  2. How will these cases be dealt with by the courts?


Who will make complaints?

As a practising Catholic, I have often been offended in recent years by anti-Catholicism in our media, and I expect things to be no different in the future, but I cannot see myself complaining to the police about it.

I have no doubt that there are many people in my country who really do hate Catholics and their beliefs, but until these people resort to violence or intimidation, or encourage others to violence or intimidation, I would not dream of starting legal proceedings against them.

When RTÉ mocks my religious beliefs, sometimes to the point of blasphemy, I may write in and protest, and I may write to the newspapers about it. When delegates at a Labour Party Conference work themselves into an anti-Catholic frenzy, with shouts of “Let’s get them out” from the platform and loud cheers from the floor, I may call it out for the bigotry that it is.

But I will not initiate court proceedings against the culprits. Neither will most Catholics, I believe.

However, I do not have the same confidence that others will take the same view.

Transgender activists, supporters of uncontrolled immigration, abortion advocates, and other campaigners have, for some time, been displaying a very worrying tendency to try to silence their opponents at every opportunity.

The Hate Offences Act will, I fear, be seized upon as yet another weapon to achieve this. People who do not actually hate anyone, but who have strong, unfashionable views, may end up in court.

Far-fetched? I would probably have thought so myself five years ago. But, prior to the 2018 abortion referendum, I had a letter published in one of the national newspapers, in which I expressed the opinion that the money being spent on a referendum campaign would be better spent on organisations helping women in crisis pregnancies to continue with their pregnancies.

I received an anonymous letter afterwards, from a woman who had an abortion which she said she “never regretted”, but she also said in her letter that she hoped I would “die in pain”.  I suspect that this country is full of women and men like this, who struggle with past actions and try to transfer their anger at themselves onto others.  The Hate Offences Bill seems tailor-made for such people. They genuinely feel offended, and see themselves as victims of hate, even though there may be no substance to it at all.


How will the courts react?

As to how the courts will react, here too, I am a lot more circumspect than I would have been five years ago.

There was a time when I would have trusted judges to apply the law dispassionately, basing their judgements solely on the evidence presented to them. More than anything else, what has changed my mind has been the Enoch Burke saga. I was far from impressed at the way the courts have handled this to date.

Practically every time Mr Burke, or one of his family, came before the courts in the last six months, a different judge seemed to be in charge of the case. But it seemed to make no difference.

It sounded, at least to me, as if the judges were all playing to the media gallery on every single occasion. Neither Mr Burke’s stance on transgenderism, nor the school management’s, have been scientifically established as the correct approach to deal with this issue. There is deep disagreement among experts on how best to deal with it. Mr Burke, however, is on the unfashionable side of this argument in our media-driven culture. But the courts should not be swayed by media fashion, and they should also have made allowance for his legitimate anger at the way he has been treated by his employer. 

Was it ever even considered, by any of these judges, that the original decision to suspend Mr Burke from his job may have been based on nothing more than a difference of opinion?

That simply did not happen.  And, because it did not happen, I have no reason to expect anything different when the Hate Offences Act is being applied in the future.

We all know that the media will take precisely the opposite stance on the rare occasions when a Catholic brings a case alleging anti-Catholic hatred.

Here is a recent example of this type of journalism, from Journal.ie, which makes the victim David Quinn sound like the culprit and makes the culprit (who admitted defamation) sound like the victim :

Iona Institute’s David Quinn settles case with abortion rights activist over defamatory tweet (thejournal.ie).

Can we take it for granted that the attitude of the judges will be any different when the Hate Offences Act comes into effect?

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