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Most Irish people don't want free speech restrictions - even if it offends some

People are worried about the rise of extreme right-wing views – but 65% of Irish people don’t want restrictions on free speech.

Nicholas Pell.
Nicholas Pell.
Image: Claire Byrne Live/RTÉ Player

THE MAJORITY OF Irish people prefer free speech as they believe limitations on it is overprotecting citizens from potential offence, a poll has found.

Debates over what freedom of speech is exactly have been becoming more frequent with the rise of an extreme right-wing movement that has brought on the Brexit referendum result and the election of Donald Trump as US president.

Fears that giving ‘airtime’ to extreme right-wing views might lead to the rise of a Nazi-like movement has raised the issue that some people’s views in the media should be limited, or treated more critically than others because of the violent history to which they’re related.

Despite this, the majority of Irish people don’t want more limitations on the freedom of speech in Ireland (some limitations already in place include laws that prohibit incitement of hatred and defamation).

In a Claire Byrne Live poll conducted by Amárach Research, 1,000 adults were asked: ’Do you support placing limits on free speech to protect people from being offended?’

The results were:

  • No – 65%
  • Yes – 19%
  • Don’t know – 16%

Claire Byrne Live

The results of the poll were mentioned on Claire Byrne Live last night before a debate on the subject of freedom of speech.

Amnesty International’s Colm O’Gorman, journalist Brenda Power, blogger Rosemary Mac Cabe, and American writer Nicholas Pell – who penned the ‘alt-right’ Irish Times article last week – were all guests on the show.

The presence of Pell on the public service broadcaster’s programme was enough in itself to raise the issue of giving airtime to extreme viewpoints:

The European Network Against Racism Ireland (ENAR Ireland) were asked to participate in last night’s debate, but released a statement that they would not take part in the debate so that they could refrain from “giving undue exposure to commentators who put hate speech into the media”.

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In a statement shared on social media and signed by the director of ENAR Ireland Shane O’Curry and Dr Lucy Michael from Ulster University, they outlined their support for an informative debate, but expressed concern over the programme’s approach.

“We believe that the production team are acting recklessly in inviting both commentators, in the privileged place of panelists, to repeat their claims.

“We have little faith in the production team to robustly challenge hate speech arising in the course of the programme, and we base this belief on recent failures to challenge hate speech against refugees and Muslims in December by a panelist and audience members.”

In December, the Late Late Show invited the controversial commentator Katie Hopkins as a guest on the chat show, leading to over 1,600 complaints prior to her appearance (and 20 formal complaints afterwards).

Read: ‘The media should tell the truth about the alt-right’

Read: Most people want drink drivers to be publicly named and shamed

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