In my Spectator column this week I’ve written about Ireland’s Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill, colloquially known as the ‘Hate Crime Bill’. It will impose the most draconian free speech restrictions we’ve seen anywhere in a Western liberal democracy – it’s even worse that Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act. Here‘s how the piece begins:
I’ve always been envious of journalists who give their names to ‘laws’, as in O’Sullivan’s First Law: ‘All organisations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.’ So I’m going to take a stab at articulating Young’s First Law and it is this: ‘The more progressive a country is when it comes to sex and gender, the more authoritarian it is when it comes to speech and language.’
The Republic of Ireland is a case in point. Until recently, Ireland was one of the most sexually conservative countries in Europe. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legalised until 2015 and abortion was illegal until 2018. Yet having finally shaken off the yoke of Catholic oppression after 1,500 years, the Irish have embraced a terrifying form of secular authoritarianism. The country is about to pass a new hate speech law that will be the most draconian in the European Union.
According to the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill, which has sailed through the Dáil and is currently being debated in the Senate, it will become an offence punishable by up to five years in jail to incite hatred against a person or group of persons based on their ‘protected’ characteristics, e.g. race, colour, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation and gender. According to critics of the bill, the inclusion of that last characteristic means that if you misgender a trans person, you could go to jail.
That sounds implausible, but ‘hate’ isn’t defined in the bill and I know from my work at the Free Speech Union that ‘hate speech’ is a phrase used by woke censors to silence opinions they dislike. For instance, we once went to bat for Kellie-Jay Keen after her petition on Change.org asking the Oxford English Dictionary to retain its definition of a woman as an ‘adult human female’ was removed on the grounds that defining a woman in that way is ‘hate speech’.
But it gets worse. Under the new bill, merely possessing material likely to incite hatred will be a criminal offence, even if you never actually share it with anyone. All the state will have to show is that you intended to do so and, provided it’s reasonable to assume that the material wasn’t meant for personal use, then the onus will be on the defendant to demonstrate that he didn’t have any plans to distribute it. In other words, this bill will reverse the burden of proof – guilty until proven innocent.