Irish Govt guilty of legislating for thought crimes, says TD

People are at risk of arrest for ‘hateful thoughts’ under Ireland’s proposed Criminal Justice Bill, a Dáil member has warned.

Paul Murphy TD said the Government’s hate crime legislation was in danger of criminalising someone in possession of supposedly ‘hateful material’, even if it remained private and harmed nobody.

Last year, the Government claimed that “genuine freedom of expression” would not be caught by the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Crime) Bill 2022, but opponents fear the law will be used to censor less popular views.

Free speech threat

During a debate in the lower house, Murphy warned that Section 10 of the legislation “creates the possibility of a person being criminalised purely for having material that is hateful, without that material being communicated to the public”.

He asked: “How can we hold people responsible for actions that they have not taken? That goes against the main thrust of our criminal law, which relates to actual crimes that take place, not bad thoughts that people have, that they write down.”

The Deputy called for “explicit reference” to be made to article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, “including the general principle that the right” to free speech “applies to the expression of information or ideas that offend, shock or disturb”.

Amendments moved by the People Before Profit member “defending the right to freedom of expression”, which sought to prevent the Bill from undermining “basic issues of civil liberties”, were voted down by the House.

‘Real fears’

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

encroaching into the realm of honest, respectful debate on real issues that affect people

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, Deputy Peadar Tóibín told colleagues in the Dáil that people had “real fears” about the implications of the 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”.


In Scotland, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which Holyrood passed in March 2021, makes it a criminal offence to ‘stir up hatred’ against certain groups.

While the original Bill posed a major threat to evangelism and Christian comment on sexual ethics, significant amendments were made to introduce important safeguards. However, concerns remain over the impact on free speech, including private conversations in the home.

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie said it would be “impractical” to implement the Bill in 2022 due to “constraints on operational policing resources; training resources and scheduling capacity”.

The controversial legislation will not come into force until at least 2024.

Also see:


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

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

‘Hate crime’ course ditched by Hampshire Police

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