The Irish Should Reject The New 'Hate Speech' Bill

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by Tyler Durden
Sunday, Feb 25, 2024 - 12:35 PM

Authored by Paul Coleman via The Critic,

The Republic of Ireland could soon become one of the worst violators of the human right to free speech in the Western world. Despite the government claiming to espouse liberal ideas, the looming Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences Bill would usher in a dangerous new standard for state-driven censorship. The expression or possession of content or even ideas deemed “hateful” would be illegal under the law, with serious implications for everyday people simply seeking to live according to their convictions.  

The Irish need only look to the case of Finnish member of parliament Päivi Räsänen — criminally prosecuted for over four years for a Bible-verse tweet, to recognise the suffocating impact “hate speech” laws engender. Finnish state prosecutors are pushing her case into its fifth year with an appeal to the country’s supreme court, making no attempt to hide their insatiable quest to silence and sanction the parliamentarian for her peaceful expression of Christian conviction. 

Räsänen’s “crime” consisted of sharing her Christian position on marriage and sexuality in a 2019 Twitter post. When her church decided to officially sponsor a Helsinki “Pride” event, she expressed an objection in light of Biblical teaching, posting a verse from the New Testament book of Romans. Lengthy police interrogations followed by criminal prosecution ensued, absurdly under the section of the Finnish criminal code titled “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.  

Räsänen was dealt three criminal charges, carrying a potential prison sentence of two years, for the tweet, in addition to her comments on a 2019 radio debate and in a church pamphlet she had authored nearly 20 years before. Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola was charged alongside her for publishing the booklet for his congregation. 

Räsänen and Pohjola were twice unanimously acquitted of all charges, but with the pending supreme court appeal, it’s clear that free speech in Finland hangs very much in the balance. The prosecution of individuals in the public eye has a particularly repressive effect — few and far between will be the brave person willing to speak their mind when the state, utilising near limitless resources, makes clear its tireless pursuit of censorship.  

Such is the reality increasingly facing us in the West who dare to voice our beliefs in the public square. While “hate speech” laws are pervasive throughout Europe, with the proposed new law, Ireland is setting a new low bar for censorship. Notably, the draft bill goes so far as to include a sentence of up to five years in prison for the mere possession of “hateful” material.  

Not content with its existing array of free speech restrictions, the government has based the necessity of the new law on the need to counter rising violence in Ireland, following a surge of incidents largely tied to tensions over immigration. The argument is that restricting speech somehow increases safety on the streets—but history has shown no proof of this. What it has shown is that censorship is the preferred answer to any problem the state faces. It’s easier for those in power to silence dissent, than to deal with the problems plaguing their societies.  

The thought of Irish police raiding homes to seize materials, including books and even something as ridiculous as memes on phones, recalls some of the darker episodes of the past century.

Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach of Ireland

While proponents of the law point to the “safeguard” that criminalises possession only “with a view to the material being communicated to the public,” the ambiguity could allow for prosecution of any content regardless of intent to share publicly. What is clear per the draft law’s wording, though, is that refusing to turn your phone password over to authorities could be enough to land you a conviction. 

Further, the bill contains an infinite number of “gender identities” as “protected characteristics”. These would be given the protection of the criminal law, creating a situation where perceived criticism is criminally prosecutable. 

As with “hate speech” laws across the West, an underlying problem with the Irish law is that “hatred” is not defined — left subject to the whims of those in power. This lack of definition is a clear design feature of “hate speech” legislation. After all, why unnecessarily restrict the future scope of the censorship?

As ominously put by Irish senator Barry Ward: “I don’t think there is any doubt in people’s mind about the material that we are talking about”.  Similarly, the Irish Minister for Justice has rejected the inclusion of any definition in the bill, saying it would hamper the ability of the “prosecution to secure convictions”. 

But while the government may claim to know exactly what it’s going after, the average citizen will have no clue if what they are saying, holding, or even thinking will land them in jail.  

It’s precisely the vagueness inherent in defining “hate” that makes the law appealing to a state seeking to wield its power in the name of public order. Based on our experience with these laws in the past decade, we can safely assume that “hatred” will morph into anything understood to go against the reigning cultural and political ideology of the day, subject to wherever the ideological winds blow.  

Let’s hope the righteous outrage, both at home and abroad, in response to the law’s evident failings will stop its passage, or at least mitigate the worst of the damage with substantive amendments. And to fuel those efforts one need look no further than Finland — where a longstanding parliamentarian, respected public figure, and grandmother of 11 is being subjected to five years of gruelling prosecution simply for sharing her deeply held beliefs. 

Is this really the future Ireland wants? If so, those in favour of the “hate speech” bill should be honest enough to admit it.