Critics of RoI hate crime Bill forecast ‘free speech big freeze’

A proposed hate crime law will have a chilling effect on free speech in the Republic of Ireland, opponents have predicted.

In a Seanad debate on the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022, Senators expressed fears that people would rather remain silent on ‘controversial’ issues than run the risk of prosecution.

Prior to the debate, the highly regarded Irish journalist Dr Helen Joyce warned that the Bill risked stifling free expression.


Supporting the Bill, Senator Pauline O’Reilly claimed that if someone’s views “on other people’s identities” caused “deep discomfort” it was the job of legislators “to restrict those freedoms for the common good”.

a charter for freezing genuine free speech

But Senator Rónán Mullen asked: “Will robust campaigning by parents against inappropriate school curricula be allowed?

“Will carrying a placard stating ‘Men cannot breastfeed’ warrant a hate speech investigation or up to five years’ imprisonment, a lifelong label as a criminal hater and all of the stigma and life limitation that goes with that? Nobody actually knows.”

Senator Michael McDowell called for the Bill to be amended, branding it “a charter for freezing genuine free speech and prevent people from articulating unpopular views”.

 it is not secret that the vast majority in Ireland is opposed to the Bill Senator Sharon Keogan


Ahead of the meeting with Senators, the former editor at The Economist and prominent gender-critic Dr Helen Joyce branded the Bill “dangerous and draconian”.

She also said: “When a crime has no definition, anyone can be found guilty. And that’s what’s going to happen if this bill becomes law, because it criminalises ‘hate’ without defining it.”

Joyce warned that it is likely to “criminalise voicing views that risk resulting in ‘hatred’” about “male people who want access to women’s changing rooms and sports because they feel female”.

Public opposition

In her opening speech to Senators at the debate, Justice Minister Helen McEntee cited “a 29% increase in reported ‘hate crimes’ in 2022 compared to the previous year”.

She continued: “It is hard to believe that despite increasing instances of hate crime and general support from the public to criminalise such acts, Ireland does not have hate crime laws in place” before going on to accuse “fringe commentators” of sowing “deliberate misinformation and distortion”.

At a subsequent press conference, she was challenged by a reporter who reminded her that “of the thousands of replies to your own Government’s public consultation, 73 per cent were negative and according to the last poll done on the subject, 65 per cent of people oppose such laws”.

Also see:


Free speech concerns dog Ireland’s hate crime bill

Ireland’s ‘reckless’ hate crime bill threatens free speech

Scottish hate crime Bill delayed over ‘huge pressures’ on police resources

LGBTQ+ history prof attacks UK Govt for defending free speech

Related Resources