Oireachtas TV likely hit record numbers in the low hundreds this week as anxious right-wingers tuned in to watch a Seanad debate on hate speech laws.
McEntee’s Bill experienced a cakewalk through the lower house last month, with a gaggle of libertarian-minded Senators left to make last-minute changes on the soon-to-be enacted legislation.
NGOs ran rampant during the Department’s paperthin consultation process, with the Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences Bill mandating up to 12 years for those convicted of hate crimes, and an exceptionally wide definition of what constitutes hate speech to work from.
A political done-deal and already promised in both the Programme for Government and various UN and EU commitments, the debate around the Bill ignited a fully blown culture war after being highlighted by Elon Musk with fears that Irish legislation could play a crucial role in EU-wide hate speech clampdowns on Big Tech companies resident in Ireland.
Helen McEntee defended the Bill in person at a sitting of the Seanad Tuesday evening, playing down claims that the legislation would strangle free expression joined by Fine Gael choir boys Senators Barry Ward and Joe O’Reilly.
The Bill has evoked more of a backash than Leinster House would have wanted with the political class hoping that the legislation would have quietly passed before the end of Dáil term.
While the Bill has seen the genuine emergence of Senators Ronan Mullen and Sharon Keogan as opposition figures of note, last night’s Seanad debate was interesting in the number of Fianna Fáil Senators suddenly wavering in their support for the Bill.
Among them were Cork Senator and former Seanad Cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan who described hate speech legislation as one of the only times he could consider breaking ranks with the government and his own party. He was partially echoed by fellow FF Senator Lisa Chambers.
Sensing where the wind is blowing is a perennial Fianna Fáiler trait, with the emergence of immigration as a respectable topic of paramilitary discussion doing much to unsettle the party grassroots.
Set in the context of an ailing Martin leadership, many Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators are eyeing up the potential to go rogue and begin to channel right-wing talking points to a growing audience.
Will newfound dogwhistling save the Soldiers of Fortune from gradual relegation into the dustbin of history?
The Oireachtas debate of the hate speech legislation, while ultimately futile, has allowed erstwhile government backbenchers to stretch their populist muscles and play around with talking points previously dismissed or otherwise unheard of.
Whether we on the populist Right can or should give them the time of day is another question.