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The rise of authoritarianism and hate speech legislation

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

18 May 2023

A bill, which will most likely become law is winding its way through the houses of the Irish parliament. It has already passed the first stage and is now being considered by the Seanad.  There was little opposition to it and what opposition there was from some T.Ds did not oppose the idea of hate speech legislation per se.

Right across Europe we have seen how governments are becoming increasingly more repressive, anti-democratic and hostile to the idea of debate.  In Britain the Police arrested everyone from anti-monarchists protesting the coronation to volunteers who help the homeless, just in case.  King Macron, decides to bypass parliament and impose his deeply unpopular measures.  In Ireland we have seen how the Gardaí get heavy with people protesting evictions but let racists burn refugees’ tents without batting an eyelid.  Thrown into this mix, we have new legislation on what is termed hate speech.

First, we should be clear by what they bill aims to do.  When people think of hate crimes, they imagine scenes like those we saw in Navan, where a young gay boy was viciously beaten by a group of teenagers from the same school.  But that is not what is meant.  Such violent attacks are already dealt with in other legislation.  And the fact that the Gardaí initially told the family they had better things to be doing than investigating it, until the furore on social media forced their lame hand, tells you everything you need to know about the Gardaí and such attacks.  This bill does not seek to legislate for violent attacks, but rather to legislate what is in someone’s head, even if it stays there.

The preamble to the Bill states.

An Act to amend the law relating to the prohibition of incitement to violence or hatred against a person or a group of persons on account of certain characteristics (referred to as protected characteristics) of the person or the group of persons and to provide for an offence of condoning, denying or grossly trivialising genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.
Some of us might look forward to the Turkish Ambassador being hauled before the courts for denying the Armenian Genocide or Jewish comedian Jerry Seinfeld for some of his comedy on the Jewish Holocaust in WWII.  And what exactly are crimes against peace?  Did those who oppose the Iraq war commit a crime against peace?  It was officially a war for peace, justice and freedom.

In fact, definitions or the lack of them are a key concern and problem with the bill.  All of these issues are very subjective.  But the main issues that we are likely to face in Ireland have little to do with the aforementioned topics.  Closer to home, opposition to the war in Ukraine may be construed as a hate crime, opposition to US soldiers using Shannon.  Zionists have been to the fore in hate speech legislation and initiatives.  Arguing for Palestinian rights has been framed as hate speech on more than one occasion.   And of course, the ground may well be tested first on those who oppose the housing of rapists in the Female Estate of Limerick Prison, oppose men playing women’s sports and generally defend women’s rights.  Section 3. (2) (d) includes gender as a protected characteristic and this includes genders not provided for in law at the moment.  Sex is not protected in this law, but rather sex characteristics, which means a comedian making a lewd joke that goes too far might be in trouble, but people who deny sex exists i.e. trans activists, Amnesty International, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) etc won’t.

It is not surprising that we have come to this point.  Not only has one of the more right-wing governments in Irish history been able to push this through, they have done so with the support and active encouragement of civil rights activists and sections of a left, that increasingly deserves our utter contempt.  The ICCL is one of those organisations and is part of a coalition of no less than 22 organisations called the Hate Crime Coalition (most of them trans organisations), which in February of this year publicly welcomed the bill and called for additional measures.  A spokesperson for the ICCL Luna Lara Liboni stated that “Hate crimes are message crimes”.(1) At least she is not denying that it is a thought crime.  She then went to call for further measures.

If we are serious about tackling hate crime and hate speech in our society, then the Government will have to introduce other measures in support of this legislation to challenge the beliefs and attitudes underlying hate.
She is calling for measures from a state that removed the automatic right of children born in Ireland to Irish citizenship, a state that maintains non-Ukranian refugees in Direct Provision Centres.  Reversing such decisions would do more to “educate” as she puts it than any thought crime legislation, but that would be serious real call with little value in terms of virtue signalling.  Then she made a pitch for money for the ICCL and its Equality and Hate Crime Section.
We need properly financed delivery of targeted education and awareness raising; improved monitoring, reporting, and data gathering; and improved victim support.
This is the NGO world tramping on civil liberties in the name of self-justification and finance.  The ICCL have put forward some amendments around the concept of hate and hatred, but fail to recognise that we are being asked to criminalise thoughts not actions.  We are not dealing with cases of someone shouting “Kill All Refugees”, that is already covered in the legislation this seeks to replace and in general legislation on the incitement to violence.  Up till now the Gardaí have been receiving what are termed non-crime hate incidents, where the definition for what is hate is explicitly in the eye of the beholder.  There is no attempt at using an objective yardstick on the matter.

When the matter came to the Dáil, some left T.Ds opposed it on the grounds of the lack of a clear definition of hatred.  The Bill itself engages in a whole series of tautologies.  In section 2 (1 )

“hatred” means hatred against a person or a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their protected characteristics or any one of those characteristics.
This is straight out of Monty Python and The Life of Brian, a film that would certainly be construed as hatred under this act.  Hatred is hatred.  But then the same people keep telling us that men can become women, refuse point blank to define what a woman is which unlike hatred is straightforward: an adult human female.

Paul Murphy, Bríd Smith, Gino Kenny and Richard Boyd Barret all put forward an amendment to this.  Their feeble attempt wasn’t any better.  It was equally vague and vacuous.  According to them

“hatred means a state of mind characterised as intense and irrational emotions of opprobrium, enmity and detestation rooted in bias prejudice or hostility.
It is almost worse than the government’s tautology.  Intense is not definable and as for irrational emotions: are there any other kind? Emotions are not rational ever, that is why they are emotions.  Enmity and hostility? Bang goes any defence of Palestinian rights, opposition to war, opposing US foreign policy etc.  Criticisms of Loyalist paramilitaries or the sectarian Orange Order could also be construed as hatred

The ridiculous nature of this crime is that a fundamentalist Christian who preaches in their Church that homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible (Leviticus 18:22) could be charged with a hate crime as could anyone who refutes this Christian with the argument that the Bible is a work of fiction and magical thinking and has no place in a secular society.  This could also apply to Jews and Muslims, whose sacred texts have a similar position.  Brian Aldiss the science fiction author, said at the time of the publication of the Satanic Verses and the threats against Rushdie that he not only believed in freedom of speech but also in the freedom to blaspheme.  Rushdie’s book is not in compliance with this Bill.  That also tells you everything.

The law also gives the Gardaí the powers to carry out searches  and retain for as long as necessary your phone and computer to see whether you have any material that may be used in the commission of a thought crime.  Warrants for this are issued on the basis of a Garda’s reasonable belief, a concept that was used for long time to jail people on charges of membership of an unlawful organisation. This is a grave violation of the right to privacy, one that a few years ago the ICCL, PbP and others would be jumping up and down about.

This is the end result of years of identity politics and the NGOisation of the Irish left, maintained for the most part by government handouts to their pet projects, and that the ICCL could manage to include a pitch for more money in its submission tells you everything about how utterly reactionary this process is.  They have said that this should be a crime and they want money to make sure of this.

So far, the opposition is coming from the Christian right, people such as David Quinn, the CEO of the Iona Institute and Senator Ronán Mullen, neither of whom had any problem with earlier thought crime legislation such as Ireland’s now repealed blasphemy laws.  This means it will be passed and when it is implemented women will be its first targets.  Women defending same sex spaces will be charged with a hate crime.  People refusing to use the “correct pronouns” and further down the road a whole host of campaigns will also be challenged and computers and phones will be searched and material deemed to be offensive will effectively be banned.  It is no accident that the ICCL publicly called for the suppression of women’s voices who did not except trans ideology.  Here they have a law that may yet do just that.

We are here because so called progressives from the NGO world pushed for this and the left has next to nothing to say.  The law is not vague by accident, it does not go after thought crimes by accident, it is part of a rightward push and the rise of authoritarian governments around the world, but particularly in Europe.  It is the absence of class politics and the extension of crazes around the right not to be offended that have led us here.  There can be no concession to such people on any issue no matter how trivial it seems.  They have proven in action the old adage of giving an inch, taking a mile.


(1)  ICCL (23/02/2023) Hate Crime Coalition welcomes progress of Hate Crime Bill as first key step to tackling hate crime

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