C: Arno Mikkor (EU2017EE)

Varadkar in 2016: “Speech should never be gagged or throttled”

Before the government began its move towards so-called “hate speech” laws, then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made sure to emphasise his view that “speech should never be gagged or throttled.”

The remarks were made on November 21st 2016, during a speech in UCD on the topic of “Equality, Diversity, Inclusion & Human Rights.”

During the wide-ranging address, the Fine Gael leader said that people “shouldn’t be afraid” to listen to opposing viewpoints.

“If we really believe in our values, then we should trust that they can withstand robust engagement, including when they come into contact with people who believe the exact opposite,” he said. 

“We shouldn’t be afraid to meet other people and talk to them and engage with them. Because that’s the only way that hearts will soften and views will change.”

Varadkar went on to criticise “echo chambers” where alternative perspectives are discounted.

“No arguments are won in echo chambers where people only engage with other people who share and reinforce their views,” he said.

“And that’s true on the left and right, liberal and conservative, in person, online and on the streets.”

He then went on to quote American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, who said that protest and speech was a vital part of society.

“So, what would Ella Wheeler Wilcox have said?” Varadkar asked rhetorically. 

“In her poem she acknowledges that ‘The human race has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised against injustice, ignorance, and lust, the inquisition yet would serve the law, and guillotines decide our least disputes’.”

He added: “But her solution was ‘speech’. She urged that ‘The few who dare, must speak and speak again’ and reminded us that speech should never be gagged or throttled.”

Despite these comments, Varadkar’s government has since pursued hate speech legislation that seeks to ban statements that are perceived to be offensive to certain protected classes within society.


This week Gript revealed that the vast majority of responses to the government’s own public consultation on hate speech laws were negative.

Taoiseach Varadkar subsequently chose to disregard that result, explaining that such consultations are often “not representative” of public opinion.

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