Irish Hate Speech Bill Enters Public Debate

Since the beginning of its drafting process, the Irish government’s Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 has been largely absent from public discourse, receiving scant media attention. With the legislation’s existence unknown to most Irish citizens, let alone the excessive restrictions it threatens to impose on freedom of expression in Ireland. 

Recently, however, following the legislation passing the final stage of Dáil Eireann’s drafting process, international and domestic attention has been focused on the government’s Hate Speech Bill. This media attention, likely a product of the amplification given by Elon Musk and Donald Trump Jr.’s commentary regarding the legislation on Twitter, has precipitated further debate as the Bill reaches the Seanad.

Receiving international attention, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson has also commented on the nature of hate speech legislation more broadly, linking Ireland’s nascent Hate Speech Bill to the broader context of cancel culture and the restriction of freedom of expression seen throughout the Western world in recent years. 

Subsequently, debate around free speech in Ireland has become more prominent. The recently appointed President of University College Dublin, Orla Feely, has recently commented on the necessity of free speech on college campuses, citing its necessity as a component of mature, democratic societies.

Liam Herrick, the executive director of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties has too, criticised aspects of the legislation, specifically article 10, which would criminalise the possession of content deemed to be hateful, irrespective as to the individual’s intention to distribute it or not. Concern from the left-wing political party People Before Profit has also been expressed regarding this troublesome clause, which TD Paul Murphy warned as effectively the introduction of thought crime into Irish law.

The disregard for public consultation the Irish government has maintained with its introduction of this legislation is worrisome, as in a late 2019 public survey conducted by the government in relation public reception of prospective hate speech legislation, 73% of respondents, voiced negativeopinions towards such a law.

Though the legislation has passed the Dáil, hopefully the recent growth in public awareness and criticism of the legislation will facilitate further amendments to the law in the Seanad. Senators Ronan Mullen and Sharon Keoghan have previously voiced their concerns with the legislation, and though the Seanad may not have the ability to veto this Hate Speech Bill, it may amend the law in such a way that its threat to freedom of expression in Ireland may be mitigated or reduced in some way.