The Irish government, arguably now the most progressive regime in Europe, has been playing catch up with the European Union in recent years as the country desperately tries to atone for its conservative history.
Wednesday, the 26th of April, the Dáil passed new hate speech legislation, which grants the state excessive powers to infringe on the freedom of expression of its citizens. The vote represented the last real hurdle for hate speech legislation in Ireland which is now sent to the Seanad for a final rubber stamp.
With a majority in the Dáil the legislation was bound to pass, given the coalition government’s obsessive streak with liberal policies and repression of public disapproval with their actions. The Dáil heard the case for minor amendments with token contrarian opposition by left-wing TD Paul Murphy who still supports the legislation in theory.
Any disagreement from Paul Murphy or Aodhain O’Riordan came from a legal semantics argument, as both parties agreed on the introduction of hate speech legislation into Ireland.
Fianna Fail’s James Browne argued that the stipulations of the Hate Speech Bill did not provide cause for worry, as the framework of the legislation was copied from the European Council.
Under this legislation, the distribution of hateful media will be a prosecutable offence. However, the purposefully vague language used is unclear as to whether the possession of material that could be construed as hateful is to be criminalised as well.
Hate is purposefully defined in colloquial everyday terms, to ensure the ease of prosecution. James Browne reiterated that the broad definition of “hate” was not a concern for citizens, as prior government arbitration had used the same term.
PBP, under Paul Murphy proposed various last moment amendments to the legislation, in an attempt to replace terminology in what amounted to a semantic debate over whether “good hate crime legislation” was vague or not.
Murphy’s final comment was a reaffirmation of PBP’s commitment to “good hate crime legislation” but justified his party voting against the legislation because of the use of the term “hate” rather than a synonym such as “discrimination” and “hostility.”
Labour, despite being an opposition party, voted with the government on this legislation as did the Social Democrats and Sinn Fein. This legislation, far from a partisan issue, is supported by every party in the Dáil.
Mattie McGrath expressed his concern with the Bill in its entirety, and as one of the only few to vote against this legislation he was among a handful of rural TDs, including the Healy-Raes, as well as Aontu’s Peadar Toibin.
The Bill will now head to the Seanad for what is expected to be a perfunctory second stage debate. It is expected that hate speech legislation will come into effect by the end of this year and was a key part in the 2020 Programme for Government.