Sarah Hardiman is the spokesperson for “Free Speech Ireland”, a group advocating for the protection of freedom of speech, expression and assembly in Ireland.
The past fortnight in Ireland has seen “cancel-culture” reach a new and frightening precipice as an Irish sustainability and rural-life festival, “Think Local”, was shut down due to vociferous lobbying of left wing activism.
A self-professed “antifa” activist took credit for the event’s demise and called an event organiser to boast at their success in destroying an event that took several months to plan. The festival was due to host subject matter experts in areas such as medicine and psychology, as well as academics of various disciplines.
What was the perceived danger of a group of individuals hosting, amongst other things, a family- friendly BBQ, food-growing workshops and childrens’ face painting? The answer is simple: community.
In a multi-polar Ireland, we have embraced people of various beliefs, political persuasions and lifestyle choices. All of these aspects of life vary in Ireland and, naturally, community binds people of similar outlooks to support and strengthen one another. The premise of “Think Local” appears to have clearly been such an event. How could an event focusing on small businesses and sustainability issues, such as home-grown food and independent farming, pose any kind of harm to Irish society and its many diverse subcultures?
Ireland is marked as one of the most tolerant, inclusive and welcoming societies. So, why then are we seeing a distinct rise in “intolerance”? We are undeniably witnessing the rise of intolerance and strengthening authoritarianism, namely by means of the impending Hate Speech laws. An attack on free assembly of citizens is an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
The proposed Hate Speech Bill is causing a significant raucous within the government ranks, particularly in the Seanad. Also, at the recent Young Fine Gael summer school attendees passed a motion opposing this bill.
Young Fine Gael should be commended for their decision to challenge their party’s failures in introducing this bill. This bill will attack these freedoms directly. At the heart of freedom of expression, is the freedom of people with whom you fundamentally disagree, or even personally dislike, to hold opinions and values you may find offensive and repugnant. That is the essence of true freedom and tolerance; a point lost on our current Minister for Justice and other members of the government who insist that this law is somehow demanded by the public or necessary for the safety of the Irish people.
Who will be stewards ensuring the efficacy of the Hate Speech laws? Ireland’s NGO sector, which receives billions annually from various government grants and schemes. The sentiment of the activist responsible for the cancelling of the “Think Local” meeting mirrors the policy lobbying of the Irish NGO sector. This sector has had enormous influence on the Hate Speech Bill, particularly in its attempt to codify identity politics into Irish legislation by giving priority to people of specified characteristics should they perceive offence from anyone for any reason. If our laws impinge on the freedom to disagree or collectively organise, we risk reverting to a time marred with institutional overreach, true suppression of minorities and criminalising people of goodwill.
The cancellation of the “Think Local” festival is proof that discriminatory lobbying of private groups and individuals can successfully impede the guaranteed freedom of expression. The private and NGO sector of Ireland is flexing its influence, power and intolerance of those who simply don’t engage or are unaffected by the interests they promote. This cancellation will no doubt be counted amongst their victories.
If you support the idea of bringing your children to a drag-queen story hour because you value the LGBT community, or are a member thereof, why oppose story-telling at a rurally based eco-focused event? It might be due to the fact that you simply insist on your view of life being imposed everywhere you see fit. That is the essence of intolerance. Who is anyone to demand any festival, seminar, lecture or meetup kowtow to your religious, political or cultural preferences? It echoes the McQuaidist regime of 20th century Ireland.
The Irish public certainly cast off the authoritarian control of free speech restrictions when the blasphemy laws were repealed by popular referendum in 2018. Ireland has made it clear: we are unafraid of cultural, political and social diversity and wish for it to thrive freely in all varieties of association and speech. We also protect this right in Article 40.6.1 of the Irish Constitution.
If cancel-culture continues in its tirade, unchallenged, the NGO sector will be the arbiters of what constitutes peaceful assembly and association. The attack on the “Think Local” festival will be repeated, businesses will be intimidated and bullied into cancelling good-faith customers and communities will experience a chilling effect.
We have come far as a nation in shaking off former state, church and institutional powers that failed us in this manner. Community power and freedom of association made it possible for Ireland to emerge from the corruption, restriction and hypocrisy of Ireland’s ancien régime. It would be a disaster to see a return to that at this stage of progress and liberty in our society.
This article is a repost from gript.ie