Ireland’s “Hate Speech Bill” or The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 is a radical update to Irish hate crime law. It is a blueprint for authoritarianism, threatening jail time for the possession of memes and even reversing Ireland’s constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence – you are presumed guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.
Interest in the revised hate speech laws has been spurred by recent rioting in Dublin following the stabbing of three children and an early childhood worker outside of a school last month.
Australian media outlet Defence Connect reported that the riots prompted Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar to encourage a review of Ireland’s hate speech legislation. “I think it’s now very obvious to anyone who might have doubted us, that our incitement hatred legislation is just not up to date,” Varadkar said.
“It’s not up to date for the social media age, and we need that legislation through. And we need it through in a matter of weeks because it’s not just the platforms that have a responsibility here, and they do, it’s also the individuals who post messages and images online that stir up hatred and violence. We need to be able to use laws to go after them individually.”
Irish law firm Matheson wrote that the Bill will expand the regulation of hate crimes in Ireland considerably and introduce the following new offences:
- incitement to violence or hatred on account of certain defined protected characteristics;
- condonation, denial or gross trivialisation of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace; and
- preparing or possessing material likely to incite violence or hatred on account of protected characteristics.
How does the Bill define hatred? It defines “hatred” as “hatred” and doesn’t bother to alleviate concerns regarding the subjectivity and perception of emotion.
The Attorney General advised that “for the purpose of this legislation, ‘hatred’ takes on its ordinary meaning as opposed to being set out as a definition, as it is a concept that is universally understood.”
The current Garda (police) definition of hate is: “Any non-crime incident which is perceived by any person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.”
One of the most astounding inclusions in the Bill, Defence Connect noted, is that a person doesn’t even have to have demonstrated hatred yet to be guilty of an offence – the mere chance that you may be “likely” to incite hatred is enough to be guilty.
One of the key features of the Bill is the provision for offences by corporate bodies. Where a body corporate is found to be guilty of an offence under the Bill, it will be liable on conviction on indictment to a fine.
The Bill was passed by the Dáil in April 2023 and is currently at the Committee Stage in the Seanad Éireann. The Dáil is the lower house and the Seanad is the upper house of the Irish parliament, the Oireachtas. The Seanad can amend a Bill that has been passed by the Dáil and delay but not stop it from becoming law.