‘Rein in Irish hate speech Bill’ says former proponent

The Irish Government’s hate speech Bill has become “a runaway train” which needs to be halted in its tracks, according to the man who first instigated the changes.

Charlie Flanagan proposed a review be taken of the existing Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 during his time as Justice Minister. But following the review’s conclusion, the Bill proposed by his successor Helen McEntee has provoked controversy.

Flanagan says he has received thousands of emails from concerned citizens, and told The Sunday Times he believes the Bill requires “radical surgery” to make it fit for purpose.

‘Runaway train’

The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 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.

The former Justice Minister said: “The idea was to update the 1989 act and introduce appropriate amendments to fit the need of the 21st century.

“However the danger here now is that in its current form the Bill is a runaway train and the only way to stop a runaway train is to break the glass and pull the chain. I think it requires radical surgery.”

‘Scottish debacle’

The Bill has previously been criticised for its vagueness, with Barrister Grace Sullivan saying that key terms are “inadequately defined” and that how the law will be interpreted is “unclear”.

But Flanagan said: “I believe it’s important as legislators that we have clarity and there is an absence of clarity in the current hate speech Bill. I’m also a believer in freedom of expression and I think there’s a lack of clarity regarding restriction of expression and what might or might not apply in this Bill.”

He also criticised Scotland’s recently enacted Hate Crime and Public Order Act, which elicited over 7,000 complaints in its first week, of which Police Scotland said only 240 were assessed to be criminal acts.

The TD said the situation had become “a laughing stock”, adding that: “An Garda Siochana have enough to be dealing with, without dealing with thousands of complaints. We have to learn from the Scottish debacle.”

Also see:

Irish Govt pledges to amend hate crime Bill after ‘listening to concerns’

Irish Govt called on to ditch controversial ‘hate’ Bill amid referendum fallout

Police Scotland ‘not ready’ as 4,000 hate crime complaints filed in 24 hours

Poll: Almost half of Scots want ‘hate crime’ law ditched

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