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Ireland hate speech bill a dangerous tilt to authoritarianism

Ireland’s Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 is a startling blueprint for authoritarianism, threatening jail time for the possession of memes and even reversing Ireland’s constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence.

Ireland’s Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 is a startling blueprint for authoritarianism, threatening jail time for the possession of memes and even reversing Ireland’s constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence.

Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising began with the reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic by Patrick Pearse outside of the Dublin GPO. Out of fear of British reprisals, Pearse detailed how the Irish republican movement organised in secret and resolved that the Easter Rising should usher forth a new era of governance to ensure the “civil liberty” of all Irish citizens. For this, just days later, Pearse was executed by firing squad.

With the proclamation’s deep commitment to universal suffrage, liberty, and equal rights, it is deeply bitter that just over three generations later, the Dáil Éireann should consider laws that threaten jail for possession of a meme, refusing to provide phone log-in details to the government, and seemingly reverse Ireland’s constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence.

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Ireland’s renewed interest in the revised hate speech laws was spurred by recent rioting in Dublin following the stabbing of three children and an early childhood worker outside of a school in November. It follows considerable concern raised about the draft legislation earlier in the year.

It has since been revealed that the suspect in the stabbing, an Irish national from Algeria, was arrested earlier in the year for knife possession.

The riots prompted Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to encourage a review of Ireland’s hate speech legislation, “I think it’s now very obvious to anyone who might have doubted us, that our incitement hatred legislation is just not up to date.

“It’s not up to date for the social media age, and we need that legislation through. And we need it through in a matter of weeks because it’s not just the platforms that have a responsibility here, and they do, it’s also the individuals who post messages and images online that stir up hatred and violence. We need to be able to use laws to go after them individually.”

To say the devil is in the detail for the legislation is an understatement, as the bill doesn’t even bother with subtlety or nuance. The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 represents a pernicious reversion to mid-20th century authoritarianism and is truly a frightening document.

It omits, in a scary and intentional obfuscation of detail, the threshold and definition of what action may constitute “hatred” (as opposed to, say, less emotive levels of annoyance).

Comically, the bill defines “hatred” as “hatred” and doesn’t bother to alleviate concerns regarding the subjectivity and perception of emotion, noting that “hatred” is “hatred against a person or a group of persons in the state or elsewhere on account of their protected characteristics or any one of those characteristics”.

Gee, thank you for the clarification.

The attorney-general even stifled providing a more stringent definition that would keep the innocent out of jail and those who intend on inciting violence in jail, “on the advice of the Attorney General, for the purpose of this legislation, ‘hatred’ takes on its ordinary meaning as opposed to being set out as a definition, as it is a concept that is universally understood”.

The current Garda definition of hate is: “Any non-crime incident which is perceived by any person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.”

Well, that’s broad.

The bill presents a clarifying “demonstration test”, which was designed to demonstrably prove a reasonable threshold of “hatred” to reduce the subjectivity of the resultant emotional finger pointing, which likewise lacks objective measure and is substance-less.

In fact, one of the “demonstration tests” details that “at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the perpetrator demonstrates hatred towards the victim”.

It gets worse.

In one of the most jaw-dropping inclusions in the bill, an individual doesn’t even have to have demonstrated hatred yet to be guilty of an offense. In fact, the mere chance that you may be “likely” to incite hatred is enough to be guilty.

“They communicate material to the public or a section of the public, or behave in a public place in a manner, that is likely to incite violence or hatred against a person or group,” the bill indicated. I’d be avoiding Ireland if I have ever downloaded a meme or had a serious and frank discussion on some of the more pressing issues facing Western civilisation today.

If that wasn’t enough, the bill also represents a substantial setback for Irish liberalism, seemingly putting the brakes on Ireland’s constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence by reducing the burden of proof on the incitement of violence and forcing the defendant to positively prove innocence.

Namely, if the government can prove possession of material and that it “is reasonable to assume” was intended for a wider audience, then they will be guilty of an offence whereby “the accused can rebut this presumption by adducing evidence to the contrary”.

Already, Irish speech laws have been wielded to disrupt discourse. Following the murder of Ashling Murphy, the comments of her boyfriend Ryan Casey were not published by Irish media under the concern that they may be misconstrued as “incitement to hatred”.

Meanwhile, Conor McGregor is allegedly under investigation by the Garda having taken to X to call for a lasting plan of action to deal with Ireland’s increasing violence.

Ireland’s Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 is a blueprint for authoritarianism, as brazenly anti-free speech and anti-thought as many 20th century authoritarian regimes. We must watch and take note as to its impact on political discourse to avoid the same in Australia.

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