Free speech concerns dog Ireland’s hate crime bill

Critics of proposed hate crime legislation in the Republic of Ireland remain sceptical about the Bill, despite promised free speech protections.

The Department of Justice has claimed that “genuine freedom of expression” will not be caught by the Government’s Hate Crime Bill, but opponents fear the law will be used to censor ‘unpopular’ views.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee published the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Crime) Bill 2022 in October.

‘Real fears’

Writing to The Irish Times, the Department of Justice said: “With the right to freedom of expression individuals can hold and express opinions which others might find offensive or shocking.”

It also asserted: “The bar for criminal conviction will be set high, and criminal incitement to hatred will not be an area that anybody will stray into by accident”.

However, during a debate in the Irish Dáil, Deputy Peadar Tóibín told Parliament that people had “real fears” about the implications of McEntee’s Bill.

He warned: “the censorship culture that exists at the moment is on steroids in many ways. People fear that is encroaching into the realm of honest, respectful debate on real issues that affect people”.


The TD for Meath West also argued: “A liberal democracy is built upon allowing ideas to compete with each other so that we as a society can test, challenge and measure the value of those ideas.

“It is only through the free and respectful articulation of these ideas that we can allow them to compete.”

Commenting on ‘hate crime’ accusations levelled against an RTÉ Radio programme in June that discussed trans rights, Tóibín asked: “Does the Minister believe that women saying that a woman is an adult female is transphobic and hate speech?

“Is it possible that a judge might in future have those views and implement the Minister’s legislation on the back of those?”

Abuse of the law

At a conference in Dublin last week organised by sex-based rights group Women’s Space Ireland, delegates were warned about the risk to free speech posed by the Republic’s hate crime legislation.

Norwegian based feminist writer Christina Ellingsen, who faces three years in prison in Norway for saying men cannot be lesbians or mothers, told the 200 people gathered: “I haven’t said anything wrong or remotely hateful.

“In any democracy there are bound to be differences of opinion but what I’ve said has been reported as hate speech.”

Drawing parallels between Norway’s law and McEntee’s proposals, she said: “The law has been abused in Norway and will be abused here. Women here will be prosecuted for simply having the belief that gender is biological and cannot be changed, and for speaking about it.”

Also see:


CI: ‘Family privacy at risk from NI hate crime proposals’

Scots hate crime Bill will cost over £1m to implement, FOI request reveals

Ex-judge warns trans groups have too much influence on ‘hate crime’ laws

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