While without ratified hate speech legislation akin to other European states, it should be remembered that the Irish Republic still has strong legal recourse to charge those guilty of what is perceived to be aggravating speech.
Despite living in an legislative interregnum between the roll out of new acts regarding hate speech, there is an increasing move to utilise pre-existing legislation in the form of the Incitement to Hated Act of 1989 or Non-Fatal Offences Against The Person Act 1997 as a stopgap measure.
In essence a lot of this is at a court’s discretion.
For this reason the recent disturbing conviction of a Roscommon man should be a cause for concern, as it signifies how deep any future legislation will cut. The man was convicted, with subsequent media fanfare, in relation to the alleged racial abuse of a People Before Profit activist and candidate for Balbriggan, John Uwhumiakpor.
A Nigerian-born asylum seeker and father of six, Uwhumiakpor spent a year in the Finnish asylum system after, in his own words “mistakenly”, flying to the Scandinavian nation in 2005. A beneficiary of the birthright citizenship loophole through his partner’s son born in Ireland, Uwhumiakpor in recent years has made a name for himself in the country’s nascent racial grievance industry in congruence with an overly compliant media.
Coming to prominence due to a ‘Wifi password’ joke at his expense, which spread like wildfire on social media, Uwhumiakpor picked up some sympathetic coverage from Communicorp’s Newstalks in the aftermath of the viral meme that parodied his elongated surname.
At a sitting of Balbriggan District Court earlier this month, a 61-year old man, named as Edward Smith, was convicted of using racially abusive language in an anonymous phone call to Uwhumiakpor during last year’s general election.
The phrase used as evidence that the call constituted racial harassment were the words “Don’t get involved in Irish politics. Irish politics is for Irish people.”
In the subsequent weeks the call was traced to the offender who had both his phone and SIM card confiscated by detectives. With a conviction, a €200 fine, and €600 worth of compensation ordered to be paid to Uwhumiakpor directly, the convicted man was also instructed never to make contact with Uwhumiakpor again.
While the call breached the basic decorum expected, and certainly the punishment was minor, the case and coordinated media response can be seen as a test run for the not too distant future, when the State deploys more robust hate speech laws against offenders. If the bar for hate speech is set at the phrase “Irish politics is for Irish people” then it shows the excessive and subjective nature of hate speech.
It was similar to another case of disgusting media bloodlust, which was shown in the case of a teenager who sent inane racist messages to the British footballer Ian Wright, the willingness of both the courts and media apparatus of the country to conduct dry runs for eventual hate speech trials is becoming more and more noticeable.
In October 2019, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris gave the working definition of hate crimes (including speech), that members of the force would use as a benchmark. Defined as anything “perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender”, it certainly casts a wide net as to where Gardaí can operate.
Speaking about the implementation of hate speech legislation in Ireland this week, Garda Geraldine Greene from the Diversity and Integration Unit painted a harrowing picture of the extent to which the laws have been modeled off the UK’s notorious hate speech regime.
With 208 appointed diversity officers around the country, as well as auxiliary functions outsourced to left-wing NGOs like INAR Ireland, specific changes have already been made to the Garda PULSE system to categorise “non-crime hate incidents” both on and offline.
While many anti-racists or members of the political left spent early January bemoaning Garda racism with regards the Nkchecho shooting this will not prevent many of them running to the Garda regarding hate speech breaches.
With or without solidified legislation the political and policing regime of this state is wasting no time in sharpening its knives with regards clamping down on dissident speech. This State is no stranger to political oppression, a trait written into its DNA from the time of the civil war. The inevitable laws will clarify an already existing reality in this country on the subject of hate speech, and will illustrate the lengths to which the powers that be are slowly becoming petrified.