There has been praise for Senator Rónán Mullen, after the Independent Galway politician spoke out against the potential “chilling effect” of proposed Hate Speech legislation this week.
Mr Mullen made the comments on Virgin Media’s The Tonight Show on Thursday 4 May. Groups including Free Speech Ireland welcomed the comments.
“We live at a time where there is [an] increasing danger of cancel culture. There is a centralisation of power. There’s a very real desire among people in power – and not just in Ireland – to interfere with people’s natural and legitimate freedom to express ideas, even robustly,” he told the current affairs programme, which is hosted by Claire Brock and Ciara Doherty.
He was joined on the panel by Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward, a supporter of the legislation.
“To listen to Barry you would think that there are no laws governing insulting and abusive behaviour,” the Senator said, referring to Mr Ward.
Mr Mullen said that it is problematic that current laws around abusive behaviour are not being enacted properly, and therein lies the solution; as opposed to enacting laws to limit the right of freedom of speech.
"There's a chilling effect on them expressing their legitimate point of view, whether it's right or wrong"
– Senator @RonanMullen on proposed new hate speech legislation#TonightVMTV pic.twitter.com/dhXAdhLPwu
— TonightVMTV (@TonightVMTV) May 4, 2023
“You would think that there were no public order offences. I was in a taxi earlier today, and the taxi driver said to me ‘I was recently abused and threatened by the guy in my car, and in fact, when I went the following day to complain to Gardai, they said, ‘Did he touch you?’ and he said, ‘no’ – well then we can’t do anything’.
“But in fact there are laws there to deal with abusive and threatening behaviour,” the Senator said. “So if we could get the Gardai actually applying the laws that are there, that would be a good thing.”
“But the government interfering and trying to put a chilling effect — not on people like me, I am a politician, so is Barry: we have privilege, we can say what we like in the Seanad, we probably have brass necks as well — it’s the ordinary person who’s maybe not as skilled in debate.
“There’s a chilling effect on them expressing their legitimate point of view, whether it’s right or it’s wrong,” he said.
Senator Mullen is among a number of Irish politicians who have spoken out to voice vehement opposition to proposed hate speech legislation after the Bill passed through its first stage in the Dáil.
Last week, 14 TDs voted against the introduction of the ‘thought crime’ legislation in the Dáil. Independents Carol Nolan, Micahsl Collins, Michael Healy-Rae, Danny Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath, Michael Fitzmaurice, Catherine Connolly and Richard O’Donohoe all voted against the controversial law. In addition, Peadar Tóibín of Aontu voted against it, along with Brid Smith, Richard Boyd Barrett , Gino Kenny. and Paul Murphy of People Before Profit.
Sinn Fein, Labour, and the Social Democrats all voted with the Government for the ‘censorship’ law — the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 — which now moves to Seanad Éireann, Second Stage.