Irish politician says ‘vague hate crime Bill must be binned’

The Irish Government’s controversial ‘hate speech’ Bill must be “binned, not just recycled”, a politician has warned.

Carol Nolan TD said that despite Justice Minister Helen McEntee’s pledge that the proposals will be amended to address free speech concerns, there does not appear to be “any substantive rethink of the fundamentally wrong-headed approach” to changing the law.

The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill, which is being considered by the Seanad, is set to significantly expand and replace existing hate crime legislation in Ireland. It includes a new offence of inciting hatred against others based on their protected characteristics, which carries a possible five-year prison sentence.

‘Ham-fisted’

Mrs Nolan criticised the Minister for Justice for failing to acknowledge the “estimated 7,000 related calls and complaints made to Scotland’s police force in the first week” following the enactment of Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act in April.

McEntee claimed that Ireland’s proposals will continue to allow people to have “full and robust debate”, but Mrs Nolan warned that what is deemed to be unlawful speech will “ultimately only be determined by a jury once a person has been charged”.

The TD added: “The very vagueness of the Bill is itself a potential form of violence against the personal and professional reputations of those who refuse to shape their speech to meet Government or EU standards of acceptable discourse.”

She called for the proposals to be ditched, saying: “We do not need yet another round of ham-fisted Government and ministerial amendments.”

Taoiseach

Last month, Taoiseach Simon Harris said he was “very clear” that the proposals would be passed before the next General Election, which must be held by 22 March 2025.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Today With Claire Byrne, the Fine Gael leader also acknowledged that politicians need to be “a bit more humble” when concerns are raised – an issue highlighted following the landslide defeats for the coalition’s plans to change the Irish Constitution to downgrade marriage and motherhood.

Harris said: “When enough people are saying ‘there’s a problem here’, it’s not putting your fingers in your ears and saying ‘la la la’ but actually trying to engage with people on the issue. That’s what we’ll try to do.”

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