Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has launched a new public consultation on hate speech with the clear aim of implementing new, stricter laws around hateful speech which he said with certainty on Drivetime RTE a few days ago, “is becoming common in Ireland”. But, is it? Searching for stats on hate crimes in Ireland is surprisingly easy, in so far as there are no official stats available. Garda Pat Leahy (then Assistant Commissioner) was quoted in a June 2018 Irish Independent article as replying the following when asked how confident he was in recorded figures regarding hate crimes; “I wouldn’t be hugely confident at the moment. I believe there is a piece of work there to be done about it. There’s a series of questions that need to be asked.” If senior Gardai were not confident of the recorded figures of hate crimes as recently as June 2018, why is it the case less than 18 months later that Ireland is apparently awash with hate crimes, according to Minister Flanagan and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.  As you’ll see when you visit the webpage to make your submission on the public consultation process, the government appear to already have decided, without question, that hate speech is prevalent in Ireland. However, with no reliable figures available, how do they know this?

Much of the push toward the implementation of stricter hate speech laws stems from a 2017 report from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. (ICCL)  I’ve read the juicy parts of this report and I can say with no doubt, that it is little more than a piece of ideological engineering specifically designed to support and push a particular narrative around hate speech and hate crimes. The report directly contradicts the above statement by Garda Pat Leahy and goes on to make sweeping generalisations about hate, incredible assumptions about the prevalence of hate crimes and actually draws its figures from the same source that Assistant Commissioner Leahy explicitly said he did not have confidence in. The report also cites ‘hate’ crime figures from the following organisations; Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), the European Network Against Racism – Ireland (ENAR) and the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network. (GLEN)

The obvious problem here is that each of these organisations are among the biggest and most vocal in their push for hate speech laws and tougher sentences for perpetrators of hate crimes. There is also no explanation on how any of these organisations collect their data, what they determine to be hateful or if these figures are even mildly reliable rather than simply pulled from thin air. See for yourself by reading pages 9 through 23 of the report.  Of course, our politicians don’t really understand this and are simply responding to a deluge of lobbying from virtuous NGO’s and ‘community experts’ who all agree, we must outlaw this harmful speech. This presents us with a dilemma. Given the current trajectory of our political class which is steam-rolling its way to the mythical land of ‘wokeness’, it is absolutely guaranteed that the government will push ahead with new, tighter laws around hate speech. The consequence of this will be a loss of liberty and privacy for the citizens of Ireland as our social media activities are snooped upon by some new faceless ‘task force’, or perhaps ‘offending’ someone in a college debate will land you in hot water with the Gardai. Take a look at the UK, where simply ‘misgendering’ someone on twitter lands you in the lock-up, or training your girlfriends dog to respond to Nazi prompts in a frankly hilarious YouTube video will see you dragged in front of the courts.

Surely most reasonable people agree that this is complete lunacy. You might think that Minister Flanagan’s intentions here are good, but you know what they say about the road to hell. In any case, the Minister has a responsibility not to act without educating himself adequately on free speech, hate speech and the consequences of these new laws, whatever form they may take. As I have no confidence in his intention to do so, I have taken the liberty to give my take, as President of Free Speech Ireland, on the stupidity of hate speech laws.

The first thing we need to agree on here is the existence of hate speech, which does exist, obviously. People say terrible things, reprehensible things and perhaps even quasi-criminal things all the time.

The idea that there is hateful speech is self-evident.

The world would undoubtedly be a more pleasant place if we didn’t have to endure these hateful utterances so let’s regulate them you might say? No problem, immediately after you tell me who defines the hate.

This is actually the problem with the regulation of hate speech that the Minister and Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris have attempted to solve with the new “working definition” of hate speech which reads;

“any criminal offence perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.”

This is about as terrible a definition as we could get given there are 8 different group identities mentioned and so, to answer the question of, who defines the hate? The answer is simple; those people that you would least want to have define it. This is because people who are power mad will gravitate to this domain to make an ethical case to exercise their controlling power over the language of other people. I am not implying that Minister Flanagan or Commissioner Harris are power mad, although their respective positions suggest they enjoy the taste of power at least. I am merely saying that both the Minister and Commissioner have attempted to bring forward an ethical case in an attempt to tell us what we can and cannot say.

Let’s dissect this working definition before we jump to conclusions. Given that the definition is predicated on the individual’s ability to “perceive” “hostility” or “prejudice” based on a total of 8 group identities, it is fundamentally flawed. Something as simple as causing offence can, and often is, perceived by people to be hostile so right off the cuff, the floodgates are open, and this definition is about as insipid and wishy washy as it could possibly get. Additionally, why should we stop at 8 group identities? Is this not placing these particular group identifying factors in a hierarchical structure of importance and thereby oppressive to the infinite number of other identifying factors?

If we don’t get to offend others, consider this example;

On an individual level, it may be possible to have a discussion with another person without causing offence.

Now consider how this would work if you were speaking to ten people, or a thousand people. You may negotiate your way around ten people but there will certainly be someone in that thousand people who will be offended by the mere fact that you exist. This means it is an impossible standard. Offence is subjective, hate is subjective, and we cannot allow the authorities to put itself in the business of policing our language.

Those who advocate for hate speech laws really do believe that everyone has the right not to be offended. From the blue-haired battalion on our college campuses to the virtuous and benevolent NGO’s, interest groups and minority lobbyists, we now have a government that has succumbed to pathological naivety. This is the type of naivety that these folks could have grown out of but wilfully refuse to because they refuse to see what’s in front of their face. They are now attempting to impose that blind naivety on everyone else because they don’t want to allow us to upset their utopian view of the way they see the world.

It’s bizarre, dangerous and indescribably ignorant. Making hate speech go away does not make hate go away. It only results in driving that hate underground where it festers invisibly. If we want to truly know where the hateful people are, we must let them talk. How do we expect to change the minds of hateful people if our solution is to shut them up? The most effective way to change someone’s mind is by allowing them to talk, think and communicate with others.

Does Minister Flanagan believe that by shutting down the ‘hateful’ people of Ireland that they will melt into air? The more likely outcome is that the people on the receiving end of these laws will become bitter, resentful and maybe even violent. They may even begin to agitate for violence.

But, it’s not just the hateful bigots, what is to prevent angry speech from now being seen as hate speech? Someone projecting speech in an angry manner toward you can be seen as hostile, so by that logic if we don’t let angry people talk in the spirit of debate, what becomes the alternative? As with the truly hateful people, the alternative to words is violence.

You don’t have to look too far to find the root of this preposterous nonsense. Our universities are starved of free thought.

Activist disciplines such as gender studies, women’s studies and the social sciences have become corrupted by radicals who have turned the humanities into little more than ideological factories. The result is an emerging class of people who are not used to being offended or challenged.

These hate speech laws must be strongly opposed by all of us who value liberty, freedom and the autonomy of the individual. Make your submission, sign the petition here; and if you are a student or society on a campus who would like to host a discussion about free speech and hate speech laws in the coming months, please email; [email protected] and we will do our best to make it happen.

Free speech is not a single issue. It is a protective umbrella for all political and social ideas – controversial or otherwise – to be discussed freely. It is not just a pillar of democracy; it is THE pillar of democracy. Do not allow it to be diluted by people who have no business in telling you what you cannot say.