Kicked into the legislative long grass by Charlie Flanagan, rumblings by the Department of Justice this week indicate an intention to finally cut the Gordian knote on viable hate speech legislation this autumn.
Specifically mentioned within the Programme for Government and legitimised by a rather flimsy and NGO centred consultation process, the roll out falls to Minister Helen McEntee eagerly defending plans on Morning Ireland this morning.
Updating the supposedly ‘toothless’ 1989 Inceitment Act some serious concern has been raised by the sheer spectrum of what falls under the umbrella of hate speech under the ‘perceived’ qualification of what counts as ‘hate’.
Already Gardaí have been quick off the mark being proactive in having new working definitions of hate crimes even before the legislation and including online hate crime centrestage in their Policing Plan for 2022.
Considering the fact the force has spurned any notion of being an independent Irish police service under tutelage of HM’s Drew Harris political dissidents are within their rights to fear a replication of the anarcho-tyranny of a UK style hate speech regime.If only the Irish state was as competent as its nearest neighbour.
Titled the Incitement to Hatred and Hate Crime Bill and covering both hate speech and crime, estimates put implementation of the new statute at the end of 2022 with cross party support for the measures making its passing nigh on inevitable.
Granting courts discretion to dole out harsher sentences to crimes with a supposed ‘hate’ factor background, penalties of up to 5 years may be given to those convicted.
Some notable aspects of the legislation,
- Those convicted of hate speech on summary conviction are liable for up to a 12 month or a class A fine of less than €5,000 with this being the case for ‘real or perceived association with a protected characteristic, this rises to potentially 5 years if convicted on indictment.
- A ‘motivation test’ taking into account social media presence and political affiliations which can be taken into account in any sentencing.
- Supposed safeguards taking into account “literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic discourse, – an utterance made under Oireachtas privilege, – fair and accurate reporting of court proceedings”
- Regardless of geographic area or where material is hosted individuals may be prosecuted for hate speech.
- Evidence of a hate aspect to a crime can include membership of an ‘organised hate group’, previous comments or gestures made by the defendant.
Speaking at a recent Brussels wide conference of Justice ministers McEntee outlined her total commitment to bringing the state into line with EU norms on hate speech legislation.
The honeymoon period in which the radical right has been living in the past few years may be coming to an end as the state is prudent enough to sense the change in the wind in light of the Ukrainian conflict and other crises on the way.
Be grateful that you and I are citizens of a lethargic and inherently flawed state which quite simply does not have the means and resources to police speech in the manner other European nations do. Their inertia could well be our salvation with the most probable outcome of hate speech legislation just being some targeted high profile cases.
Regardless, it is incumbent to present a dignified and effective response before and after the legislation is passed. Remember the state is only doing this due to international pressure and the fact they judge us as to be progressing from a mild nuisance to semi-viable institutional threat.