'Authoritarian', 'Ireland will be police state': Complaints to politicians over hate speech legislation

'Authoritarian', 'Ireland Will Be Police State': Complaints To Politicians Over Hate Speech Legislation
Constituents have labelled proposed hate speech legislation "authoritarian" and complained to TDs that it will make Ireland a "police state". 
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James Cox

Constituents have labelled proposed hate speech legislation "authoritarian" and complained to TDs that it will make Ireland a "police state".

People claimed the hate and gender definitions in the legislation were unclear in messages to politicians which were forwarded to the Department of Justice, seen by BreakingNews.ie after a Freedom of Information request.


Taoiseach Simon Harris has said he intends to pass an amended version of the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 before the next general election.

Politicians have been wrangling over the wording of the Bill, which aims to overhaul 1989 incitement to hatred legislation and introduce laws that would see “hate” become an aggravating factor in certain offences.

Concerns have been raised around a lack of clarity on what “hate” means, and what impact the legislation could have on freedom of speech.

In one email forwarded by Fine Gael TD Michael Ring, who is a critic of the legislation, a constituent claimed the Bill is "at odds with our personal freedoms as protected by our constitution".


The person said they were "appalled" at Section 15, and the "extraordinary powers it grants to the police".

The email, sent on May 13th, added: "I did not realise we were, to all purposes, becoming a police state".

On May 16th, Mr Ring sent the justice minister a "sample of emails I have received regarding the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022".

He wrote: "As you can imagine, I have received hundreds of emails on this topic and what I am sending you is only a small sample. I am looking for a full and detailed response from you and I would need it urgently."


On May 10th, Senator Michael McDowell emailed then acting justice minister Simon Harris questioning the gender definitions in the legislation.

In his email he wrote: "a) Is transgender a gender for the purposes of Irish law? b) Can you specify what is meant in addition to transgender, by 'any gender other than those of male or female?'"

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, who forwarded a number of emails from constituents, sent one on May 16th in which someone wrote: "I am writing to you as a constituent who voted for you on multiple occasions, to express my discontent that you voted in favour of the Criminal Justice Bill in its current form.

"This illiberal bill is a direct assault on the fundamental democratic principle and the right of freedom of expression.


"I want you to understand that while I voted for Fine Gael and for you specifically on multiple occasions in the past, because I believe in democracy and liberalism, your abandonment of those principles on this occasion means that I will look for other parties to represent my views from now on.

"If you wish to understand how a young, gay, liberal constituent who cares deeply about the suffering of all in our society could so strongly oppose this authoritarian bill, please feel free to read more about my perspective below."

The author said he was a "33-year-old medical doctor and PhD student".

He added: "Granting the power to define the vague, undefined, subjective and infinitely malleable term ‘hatred’, and the power to decide which speech is ‘likely to incite hatred’ to the State is reckless. We will only ever be one mood swing of the population, one close election or one judicial succession away from ‘hatred’ being reinterpreted, and that new power being used to oppress."


You cannot ban hatred, any more than you can ban jealousy or greed.

The email went on: "Minorities are not monoliths, we shouldn’t be treated as such, we have diverse opinions within each grouping and have conflicting interests between groupings. Activist organisations that purport to speak on behalf of our interests are not democratically elected and do not represent the range of diversity of opinion within these simplistic groupings. Many, including myself, understand the importance of freedom of expression.

"I would rather know what someone’s true beliefs are, even if they are hateful. Why? Because then I can either exercise my freedom of association and avoid that person, or even (imagine this) engage in a conversation with them that might change their mind!

"Banning such speech means these weak ideas are given a mystique or cachet, and will only be expressed behind closed doors, away from criticism, where they can spread unchallenged, take root permanently and gain support.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant. It's also completely ineffective ‐ you cannot ban hatred, any more than you can ban jealousy or greed. There are still plenty of Holocaust deniers in Germany despite its criminalisation."

In another email to Mr Donohoe, on May 23rd, someone labelled the Bill "sinister in the extreme".

A number of emails expressed concerns about gender definitions in the new Bill.

One email, again to Mr Donohoe, on March 26th, read: "I'll dispense with the pleasantries. I'm a trans woman, and I am even telling you the hate offences bill needs to be amended. This legislation will be used against trans people and everyone else, including yourselves!

"Are you so confident that you are so loved and adored by the public that someone isn't going to target your friends or your family? This piece of legislation is dangerous for everyone"

An email forwarded by former minister for justice Charlie Flanagan raised concerns over the "ill-defined" definition of hate.

"Sure it sounds simple, we all dislike the idea of hate, but do YOU think you know what 'hate' is? Me too, but wait till the word is redefined by those who want to silence their opponents. It's already with us, people throw the word hate out at anyone they
don’t agree with. The same rules will then be extended to offence, anyone offended will look for redress. This does not have the support of the general public. Pass a law that people despise, and everyone loses respect for the law and the lawmakers."

Another email to Mr Flanagan from a "concerned constituent and Fine Gael supporter" expressed "deep concerns" about the "potential implications that this bill may have on freedom of speech and the need for a balanced approach".

"I fear that it may inadvertently restrict legitimate expressions of opinion, hinder open dialogue, and honest discussions on sensitive topics such as gender critical views, transgenderism, sex differences, immigration, and the refugee crisis."

'Robust public consultations'

The person added: "In order to strike a fair and effective balance, I suggest that the bill should include provisions for robust public consultations, allowing input not just from academics, and legal professionals, but especially from the Irish people, given that they will be living with the consequences of this bill. This inclusive approach would help to ensure that the final legislation is comprehensive, well‐informed, and respects the rights and liberties of all individuals."

In one email, sent to a number of TDs, with the subject line "a view from LGBT Ireland", there was a rare call for the Bill to be introduced quickly.

It mentioned an earlier protest outside Leinster House that included intimidating messages and a mock gallows depicting politicians including Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and then taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

"This must have been very unsettling for you, your staff and others from the Oireachtas. Unfortunately, the levels of violence, harassment and intimidation on display yesterday came as no surprise to LGBT Ireland or other organisations working with the LGBT community.

"What happened yesterday is not new and will not be stopped unless action is taken. Last month, fourteen LGBT and migrant organisations wrote to the Garda Commissioner to express our collective alarm at the escalation of this campaign, the increased
threats of violence and the potential for serious harm, including death. We need to see a more robust response not just to events outside Leinster House but also to similar events outside libraries and migrant centres.

"For that response to be effective, An Garda Síochána and the wider criminal justice system must be equipped with powers to address incidents of incitement to hatred, similar to what we saw yesterday. To that end, we want to see the swift enactment of the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022."

Paschal Donohoe and Charlie Flanagan were among the politicians who forwarded complaints about the legislation.

Minister for Enterprise Peter Burke sent an email on concerns "that have been raised to me, by a constituent, that the bill could lead to infringement on personal privacy and could lead to the unintentional retraction of information technology companies from Ireland if their rights to stream non‐mainstream contents are affected".

He added: "The questions that were raised are: how will personal and industrial privacy and rights be protected under this bill?"

An email forwarded by then senator David Norris read: "Could you request details of the risk and impact assessment carried out by an Garda Síochána and/or the department of justice into the utilisation of a third party referral system for the reporting of hate offences. I can think of several issues off the top of my head, and I want to be sure this information is considered when you are deciding how to vote."

An email forwarded by Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney, then minister for enterprise, again concerned gender definitions. The email asked for more specific definitions of transphobic language.

Another email from Mr Donohoe mentioned a constituent who called his office to "vehemently oppose" the hate speech legislation.

Mr Donohoe's office wrote: "He believes that people should be allowed to speak freely and that this proposal would undermine this basic tenet of democracy. Also asks, why is there not a referendum on this."

Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee said she had heard concerns about the legislation from the Jewish community in Ireland.

Ms Clifford-Lee proposed an amendment that would see "the Holocaust" included in the legislation to prevent Holocaust denial, and to make it an offence to "deny, grossly trivialise or condone the Holocaust".


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