Ireland’s proposed “hate speech” legislation got mired in a crossfire of opinions during the Second Stage Seanad. Justice Minister Helen McEntee tried to defend the attack on free speech and fought back against the critics, stating the bill is “proportionate, evidence-based and in line with legislation in other countries” and “not radical as detractors claim.”
Who’s Saying What: Independent Senator Michael McDowell didn’t mince words, saying the bill “isn’t in a good shape.” He argued it would gag free speech, as “most people will take many many steps to avoid the danger of being prosecuted and shut their mouths.” Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers, doubling down on concerns, cited the bill’s “vagueness” and lack of clear definition for hate. Chambers says the bill creates a “level of subjectivity which makes people nervous.”
The Other Side: Barry Ward, donning the cape for Fine Gael, came out swinging in defense of the legislation. He didn’t just defend it, he demanded clarity from fellow senators, “don’t give us the rubbish you see online… tell us if you are in favor of legislating against hate speech or not.”
The Intent: With the aim of shielding vulnerable and minority communities, the bill is navigating a sea of criticism from NGOs, free speech advocates, and international onlookers. But, McEntee spotlights the support it has managed to amass from political circles and representative bodies. The Justice Minister played the latest trick in the book, suggesting the criticism is misinformation, and raised an eyebrow at “deliberate misinformation and distortion” disseminated by fringe commentators and social media pundits.
Peeling the Onion: McEntee says the bill has been put through its paces with extensive public consultation since 2019, encompassing public surveys, written input, workshops, and stakeholder sit-downs.
Drawing the Line: Freedom of expression is not on the chopping block, McEntee tries to claim. She’s says that the bill isn’t taking a machete to the right to hold or express opinions, even the offensive ones. There’s a Section 11 safety net in the bill for freedom of expression. But, she’s resolute that “freedom of speech is not an absolute right” and shouldn’t be a ticket to incite hatred or violence.
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