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Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said the new law is 'about criminalising those who deliberately or knowingly put other people in harm’s way through their statements and views'. Alamy Stock Photo
Hate speech

Hate speech law won't progress further until autumn at the earliest

A number of senators have requested a meeting with the minister about the legislation.

IRELAND’S PROPOSED HATE speech laws, the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022, will not progress further until the autumn, it is understood. 

The legislation is undoubtedly controversial as there has been opposition to it from some members within government as well as some rather diverse quarters, such as Elon Musk and Eric Trump. 

As reported by The Journal recently, a chorus of negative reactions to the bill has grown louder in recent weeks.

The bill passed final stage in the Dáil in April and passed Second Stage in the Seanad last month. 

However, despite the Dáil and Seanad rising in less than ten days time for the summer recess, it is understood that the legislation will not be moved to Committee Stage until September at the earliest. 

It is understood that following the Seanad debate on the bill last month, a number of government senators requested a meeting with the minister to highlight their concerns about the new law. 

Autumn 

Government sources have slapped down any suggestion that the senators’ request for a meeting played into the reasoning for the legislation not progressing until after the summer, with sources stating that it was never the case that the proposed legislation was fixed to move next week in the Seanad. 

During the Seanad debate in June, a number of senators spoke about their concerns with the proposed legislation. 

Independent Senator Michael McDowell said the bill in its current state “isn’t in a good shape”, while Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers said there are “reasonable questions” around the legislation that need to be asked.

McDowell said in his view, the legislation will create a chilling effect on free speech, stating that “most people will take many many steps to avoid the danger of being prosecuted and shut their mouths”. 

He also raised concerns, which were also highlighted by Chambers, around members of the Seanad feeling “constrained” in what they can say about certain topics “because on both sides outside there was such a violent reaction on social media’.

Chambers said the “vagueness” around some aspects of the legislation and the lack of definition of hate is problematic to some people and creates a “level of subjectivity which makes people nervous”. 

Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s Barry Ward defended the legislation, calling it progressive and stating that it is not about stifling debate. 

He criticised senators who will vote against the bill, stating “don’t give us the rubbish you see online… tell us if you are in favour of legislating against hate speech or not”. 

However, there has been chorus of negative reactions to the bill has grown louder in recent weeks, with NGOs and free speech groups have joined the chorus of Irish and international detractors, with some very high-profile critics. 

‘Not radical’

Justice Minister Helen McEntee proposed hate speech legislation “is not radical as detractors claim”, while stating that she recognises there are different points of the view.  

She said:

“You have a right to express your convictions and your opinions, no matter how unpopular they might be. You have a right to be divisive and argumentative, a right to offend others and to hold political opinions which are not the mainstream.”

Speaking to The Journal today, Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne said:

“It is very welcome that Minister McEntee is going to engage with government senators on this legislation.

“We are supportive of the principle of the bill and want to tackle incitement to hatred and crimes aggravated by hate, but it is critical that the definitions in the legislation are clear and not open to ambiguity or abuse.

“A garda enforcing the law needs certainty.” 

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