Give the man credit: He never shies away from the difficult jobs:
The Taoiseach @LeoVaradkar has said Ireland 'definitely needs to bring in new laws around hate speech and hate crimes' and also needs an anti-racism awareness campaign. He told #2FMbreakfast such legislation 'isn't easy to introduce' due to the right to freedom of speech.
— Paul Cunningham (@RTENewsPaulC) June 10, 2020
I confess, I did not hear the segment in question, but you can be sure that RTE pressed him hard on the reasons that the constitution guarantees free speech, and whether he has any right to seek to limit people’s right to say what they think. Right?
Once again, and as usual, Ireland is in a position where every political leader is lined up on one side of a debate and a significant chunk of the population aren’t being represented at all. How significant is that chunk? Well, Robert Burke reminds us:
In a Claire Byrne Live poll from 2017: ’Do you support placing limits on free speech to protect people from being offended?’
The results were:
No – 65%
Yes – 19%
What’s the role of the media in this wonderful new Ireland we are building? Does it even exist anymore? https://t.co/uKlGb6e98o
— Robert Burke (@robertburke84) June 10, 2020
Obviously that poll is three years old, so it is possible, you suppose, that there’s been a massive swing in opinions on so-called “hate speech” since then. But it’s not as if there were a range of politicians defending free speech in 2017, when that poll was taken, either. In fact, majority opinion on this question has never been a consideration.
This is a good point about the dynamic at play here:
The danger, as I see it, is that public officials are taking hasty and ill-judged decisions because they are worried at the anger of 'the masses'. Only, these aren't 'the masses' at all. They are a vocal minority. The real masses are sat at home, perplexed and getting quite angry
— Paul Embery (@PaulEmbery) June 9, 2020
We’re a very small platform, here at Gript – a minnow compared to the rest of the Irish media – but nothing gets people as engaged with our content as this question. The idea that they might not be allowed to talk, or voice their concerns, because they’re considered “hateful”, is something that rightly worries a lot of people.
To the supporters of hate speech, of course, this is perfectly logical. “You shouldn’t be allowed to say hateful things” is a simple proposition, with which the unthinking can easily agree. “Hate is bad” isn’t some kind of nuanced statement, requiring careful consideration. You can pop it up on your Instagram in between two shots of yourself in swimwear, and get 1500 likes, and not worry too much about being wrong.
For example, if somebody worries, rightly or wrongly, that a new halting site might increase crime in an area (or, as Minister Josepha Madigan says, might just be a waste of valuable resources) is that hate speech, or the articulation of a legitimate concern that should be addressed, both by those advancing the application, and the traveller community who are the person’s putative neighbours?
It’s obviously going to offend law abiding travellers who are sick of being tarred as criminals. That’s perfectly understandable, and you have to be able to comprehend their consternation at constantly having it assumed that they’re a risk to their own neighbours. But should it be illegal to air those worries in public when they are, like it or not, genuine?
You cannot, after all, outlaw an emotion. The very most you can do is make the expression of that emotion a criminal offence. But you haven’t, in that case, abolished so-called “hate”. You’ve just bottled it up. And the same people, by and large, who want to force people to bottle up their feelings on some issues are those who send experts into schools every year to tell children never to bottle up their feelings because it leads to bad outcomes.
More fundamentally, the question of feelings is an irrelevance. As I wrote last year:
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.
The whole point of hate speech laws is that they’re not intended to be fairly applied. They’re only about targeting certain kinds of hate.
Politicians and activists will still be able to say whatever they like about how the Irish voter is inherently racist, or how the church is a cult, or how oil companies are deliberately destroying the planet.
You just won’t be able to say anything mean about people or things they hold dear.
On this issue, above all, any law they introduce must be resisted, and disobeyed, without fear.