Justice minister Helen McEntee has published proposed updates to Ireland’s hate speech laws. According to the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021, the government will introduce new and tougher sentences for those convicted of hate crimes.
McEntee said that “we are determined to stamp out prejudice and hate”.
Getting tough on hate crime
If passed into law, the bill will make it a crime to target someone based on a protected characteristic. This means that the bill will class crimes which involve targeting someone based on race, nationality, gender, disability, ethnic or national origin, and sexual orientation as “aggravated offences”. Included in the list of offences are assault and harassment.
In presenting the scheme today, minister McEntee stated that “Hate crimes tell the victim that they are not safe simply because of who they are”. Such crimes, she argued, are “motivated by prejudice”. Given this:
We must get tough and show victims that we will recognise the true harm of these crimes. And perpetrators will know that we are determined to stamp out prejudice and hate.
During any trial in relation to hate crime, a judge will now be able to place an “enhanced penalty” on the convicted during sentencing.
Online hate speech
The bill also attempts to deal with online hate speech. It states that a person is guilty of incitement to hatred when “for the purpose of inciting, or being reckless as to whether such communication will incite, hatred against another person or group of people due to their real or perceived association with a protected characteristic”.
A person is also guilty if they broadcast or publish such incitements to the public. If found guilty a person could be sentenced for up to five years in prison if convicted on indictment
McEntee stated that the intention is for the new legislation to “be proportionate, specific, and clear”. Part of this process will mean “respecting the vital constitutional right to freedom of expression and association.”
Senator Sharon Keogan had previously attacked the proposed updating of Ireland’s hate speech laws. During a debate in Seanad last November, she insisted that the bill is “a manifestation of poisonous identity politics”. She also described the bill as “flawed”. Senator Rónán Mullen also joined her in voicing opposition to the bill.
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