Civil liberties group ‘welcomes’ government report on updating Irish hate speech laws

Civil liberties group ‘welcomes’ government report on updating Irish hate speech laws

A leading civil liberties group has voiced its support for the proposed updating of Ireland’s hate speech laws. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said it “welcomes” the move, pointing out it’s “been calling for such legislation for years”. And although it has some caveats about the government’s proposal, it’s “broadly welcomed”.

In May the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) highlighted a “fourfold increase in reports relating to online and media content” made to it via its iReport system.

A balancing act 

According to the ICCL the updating of Ireland’s hate speech laws is timely. It pointed out that research it carried out shows that the hate crime aspect of crimes “is often filtered out by the time it gets to court or sentencing”. The organisation also highlighted the fact that many consider the 1989 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act to be “inadequate”.

Doireann Ansbro, Senior Research and Policy Officer for the ICCL, argued:

No one in Ireland should experience hate crime and those that do should be confident that the justice system will respond appropriately. We are now one step further towards this goal.

But the ICCL also voiced some concerns about the proposed new legislation. It argued that hate speech should only be criminalised “in the most extreme circumstances”. Such conditions include inciting people to commit genocide or “hateful violence, or propaganda for war”. 

Ansbro said that the government must be “cautious” given that freedom of speech “is a core human right and democratic principle”. 

Tackling hate speech

It comes as the Department of Justice published its report on the public consultation that took place in relation to the proposed law. In her foreword to the report, justice minister Helen McEntee said she’s “determined” to deal with the issue of hate crime. 

In terms of defining hate speech, the report uses “working definitions” based on the “real-life experiences” of people targeted by hate speech and hate crime. Specifically, hate speech refers to 

incitement (promoting or encouraging harm or unlawful discrimination against a person or group due to their real or perceived association with a protected characteristic), and direct verbal attacks intended to cause serious distress or alarm, due to a person’s association with a protected characteristic in the mind of the perpetrator.

A hate crime is defined as a crime carried out “with a hate motive” based on a victim’s “real or perceived association with a protected characteristic”. 

This latter group includes those already listed in the 1989 act as well as adding gender, gender expression, gender identity, and disability to the list. Travellers should also be listed under the heading of an ethnic group, which would therefore put them “on the same [legal] footing as other ethnicities”.

New offences

Given this, the government intends to introduce two new offences when it comes to incitement of hatred. Both intentionally “or recklessly” inciting hatred against a person or group based on their “association with a protected characteristic” and “displaying or distributing material inciting hatred” will be prohibited by the new legislation.

It’s also noted that not every incident of hatred will rise to the level of a crime.

Considering this, the report argued that such incidents “are better dealt with outside the criminal sphere”. In these situations their prevention “is the most desirable outcome for all concerned”. It’s written that this could be achieved via “education and awareness-based education”. 

The report also points out that freedom of expression must be protected. But even though this right is “fundamental”, it’s “not absolute”. And it can be limited in certain circumstances. With this in mind the report declares that any limit on freedom of expression has to be “necessary, proportionate” and dealt with in Irish law.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons – Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center International Team

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