Tastefully included in the 2020 Programme for Government and subject to a year-long ‘consultation process’ with various interest groups, the public now has a firm grasp of expected hate speech legislation expected within the next 3 months.
In a media-parroted press release this morning, the Department of Justice finalised proceedings for the ‘Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences Bill 2022’, or hate speech legislation to you and me.
While the rough draft of the Bill has been known since April of last year, the Department has added a demonstration and motivation test which in their words “means simply that a perpetrator demonstrates hatred towards a member of a protected group/characteristic at the time of an offence being committed. This might involve, for example, the use of hostile or prejudiced slurs, gestures, other symbols or graffiti at the time of offending”.
In essence giving more rope to prosecutors.
To recap the key points in the Bill:
- Communications deemed ‘perceived’ hateful on any medium to those of a ‘protected characteristic’ may merit up to 5 years imprisonment on conviction or up to 12 months on summary conviction.
- Those just disseminating hateful content could face up to 2 years in prison.
- Special exclusions exist for artistic, political and academic speech, as well as utterances made in the Oireachtas if it meets authorities’ definition of a ‘reasonable contribution’.
- Those convicted are liable to be branded as a ‘hate criminal’ in future legal proceedings as well as Garda vetting.
- A useful stick to beat tech companies, corporations are redeemed from prosecution for platforming hate speech only if they have ‘in place reasonable and effective measures to prevent dissemination of communications inciting hatred’.
- Irrespective of whether the alleged hate speech actually incites violence or discrimination, an individual may be prosecuted or even if they were in the state or information hosted outside of the state.
- No doubt influenced by ‘transphobic rhetoric’ on the airwaves, gender identity is now included in the final draft.
- Membership of ‘an organised hate group’ can be counted as evidence in any hate related crime as well as a victim’s ethnicity and past statements by the defendant.
- Holocaust denial will carry up to 12 months prison time as will denial of any UN recognised genocide.
Needing to cross the hurdle of both Houses of the Oireachtas before reaching the President’s desk, the Department states its intent is to have it cleared come January 2023.
That leaves two months to arrange some sort of response, token or otherwise, against the Bill which so far has received cross partisan support. While the Enoch Burke saga is providing the ruling regime and Mountjoy jailors alike with a PR headache, one can expect more hate speech martyrs in the coming years if this legislation passes.
Failing all jamming up, the reporting process and causing as much havoc for officials as possible is the next possible strategy. The Irish State has ambitions to replicate the judicial hellscape that is the United Kingdom when it comes to hate speech prosecutions, but with only a fraction of the resources.
The absence of reasonable voices at an elected level means any successful fight against the Bill has long since expired. What can and must be done is an awareness campaign to startle the public into the extremity of the law as well as coordinated attempts at frustrating it when it comes in.
Expect the guardians of the peace to pursue low hanging fruit at first, but rest assured in the understanding this legislation is meant for all our jugulars.