Overshadowed by attempts to dislodge Supreme Court Justice Séamus Woulfe, the ‘Criminal Justice Hate Crime Bill’ reached the second stage in the Seanad Tuesday evening. Proposed by Fianna Fáil Senator and defrocked Kildare TD Fiona O’Loughlin who formulated similar legislation while a TD in 2016, the Bill has been criticised by legal experts for its vague definitions, and attempts to rapidly expand the role of the state in the area of free speech, while creating a hierarchy of victims in terms of sentencing.
The Bill which aims to provide a legislative framework by which racist or hateful motivations can be taken into account for certain crimes is sponsored by two additional Fianna Fáil Senators, Robbie Gallagher and Lisa Chambers. It additionally has the backing of all major parties in the Oireachtas. Under the 2020 Programme for Government, there is a promise for hate speech and crime legislation respectively within 12 months of this Oireachtas term, with the UN backing calls for legislation to be rolled out.
In short, the Bill in its current form defines and creates the provision for hate crimes in the Republic with a harsher sentencing regime for those who are found to have been “hateful” when committing a crime.
While not necessarily hate speech regulation per se, by the admission of many parliamentarians forwarding the Bill, hateful speech would fall under the purview of the law. Separately, the main thrust of hate speech legislation is expected to come in the form of revamping the 1989 Prohibition to Hatred Act likely within the next 4 months according to the Department of Justice, but which will be complimented by this Bill if and when it passes.
Key gripes in regards to the Bill come in the phrasing of the definition of a hate crime as being an “offence that is perceived by a victim or any other person, to be wholly or partially motivated by prejudice against a relevant individual” which through its subjectivity widens the window on what counts as a hate crime to anything the victim or state deems hateful or racist.
In addition, the Bill provides for “hate” to be taken into account once proven in Court leading to more stringent sentencing as well as allowing the court to assign counselling to those found to be racist or hateful when committing a crime to remedy their opinions.
Such mandated counselling is commonplace in many countries, with some readers recalling a 2018 case when Marine Le Pen of France’s primary opposition party was given a court order to attend counselling after posting images of ISIS atrocities.
Over the course of a 90-minute debate the Bill was praised by most, with some caveats given around loose phrasing with some even desiring more onerous legislation than what was proposed. While heading into the debate there was some ambiguity around whether or not hate speech would fall under the influence of the Bill, it became clear early on in proceedings that the Bill is partially tailored to tackle hate speech.
The general pattern throughout the discussion was a Senator of whatever political stripe would state their support for the Bill, with reservations around sloppy language, mention their desire to fight racism and normally finish by thanking Ireland’s NGO lobby for pursuing the hate crime legislation. Praised multiple times in the chamber was Shane O’Curry as well as the Soros-funded INAR, a major factor in a variety of legislation worming its way into law, not least hate speech and a general push for diversity across civic society.
Perhaps of some cosmic irony is the support given to the Bill by Senators David Norris and Ivana Bacik, who prior to this had been champions of unfettered speech when it came to tearing down the shibboleths of Catholic Ireland. Indeed Bacik herself played a cardinal role in extirpating blasphemy laws from the statute books, yet sees no hypocrisy in taking a hardline on hate speech against liberal mores.
While David Norris spent the later half of the 20th century crusading against institutionalised homophobia, by his oration yesterday it appears the same open mindedness isn’t at play when legislating against homophobia.The senator cited the failure to prosecute a newspaper that printed homophobia as a reason why hate crime legislation was required.
Similarly Fine Gael’s disgraced Jerry Buttimer and Sinn Féin’s Niall Ó Donnghaile took the podium to voice their support for the Bill, despite the latter’s party being a major victim of targeted legislation in decades past.
Of those objecting to the Bill, kudos must be sent to Independent Senators Ronan Mullen and Meath based Senator Sharon Keogan, formerly of New Vision, who opposed the Bill on grounds of textual sloppiness and risk it creates parallel legal systems facouring certain minorities.
In particular Keogan deserves much laurels for her mention of ‘woke culture’ hijacking the Oireachtas, and how Fianna Fáil are veering leftwards, in what was easily the most impassioned oration of the evening, objecting to the legislation root and branch.
Following its initiation in the Seanad and yesterday’s passing of the second stage within the Chamber, the Bill may now proceed to Committee Stage where it will be dissected and amended as required by Oireachtas members before undergoing more stages of review after which its enacted upon after attaining the necessary votes.
Suffice to say the wheels are in motion on hate speech legislation whichever way our rulers phrase it within the next six months despite the logjam Covid has created.