IRELAND: Free Speech Groups Slam Government For Proposing Law That Could Jail People For Possession Of “Hateful” Memes

Shay Woulahan

A free speech advocacy group in Ireland  has launched a new campaign in an effort to fight back against a proposed “hate speech” bill which would limit public discourse around political issues. Free Speech Ireland is labeling the law “onerous anti-free speech legislation.”

The grassroots campaign shared their petition on social media, along with a video warning Irish citizens of the danger the bill poses to freedom of expression which is meant to be protected under both the Irish constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The Irish government wants to pass a law that could see you or your loved ones jailed for possession of memes, cartoons or any content that could be deemed ‘hateful,'” Free Speech Ireland stated. “The bill includes no definition of hate and is wide open to abuse by bad actors.”

The Hate Speech Bill, formally known as the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 covers hate crimes and hate speech. Some sections of the legislation outline 12 offenses which are already illegal but could now result in a harsher punishment if the motive for the crime is found to be “hateful.” The bill also introduces the new offense of incitement to violence or hatred in Section 7 which criminalizes certain speech.

In their petition, which was launched this week, Free Speech Ireland outlined that the provision in Section 7 “sets a troubling precedent” by establishing that an individual could be deemed guilty of an offense through the act of “communicating material to the public or a section of the public.”

Due to its far-reaching implications, the bill has been highly criticized internationally. Vocal opponents of the bill include Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Donald Trump Jr.

Musk took to X (formerly Twitter) to call the proposed legislation a “massive attack against freedom of speech.” He has also announced plans to file a legal action to try and stem the law.

Yesterday, Musk shared Free Speech Ireland petition on X writing, “Destroying freedom of speech means destroying democracy.”

Donald Trump Jr. also criticized the proposed legislation, writing: “It’s insane what’s happening in the “free world.”

A spokesperson from the Irish Ministry of Justice has claimed that the true purpose of the bill is to “protect those who are most vulnerable” to hate crime and hate speech.

The bill is currently at the third stage of the Irish Senate. It was expected to be enacted by the end of 2023, but was delayed earlier in the year as it had come under heavy scrutiny in the Senate, particularly because the bill does not include clear definitions of either “hate” or “gender.”

The definition of gender in the bill is vaguely defined as “the gender of a person or the gender which a person expresses as the person’s preferred gender.”

The bill includes gender identity and gender expression as protected characteristics, and seeks to protect individuals who identify as non-binary or any other new gender identity label from “hate speech.”

When asked how many genders there are, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was unable to answer, stating that the government has “no official position” despite his government attempting to legislate speech around gender. 

Many have expressed concerns that the bill will criminalize people for expressing criticism of gender ideology or for using the correct-sex pronouns for transgender individuals. But despite the controversy, Irish Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly defended the bill.

Speaking in June at a hearing, she said: “If a person’s views on other people’s identities make their lives unsafe and insecure, and cause them such deep discomfort that they cannot live in peace, our job as legislators is to restrict those freedoms for the common good.”

But Senator Rónán Mullen of the Human Dignity Alliance criticized the bill.

“There are about 105 genders listed on the Internet, including agender, acegender, androgyne, apogender, astronomique, cookie gender, gendercat, fluid queer, one that I cannot politely render here, hyperfluid, etc,” he said.

“All of this is now being landed in the middle of a criminal law bill where somebody could be attacked for being a hater for stating in robust, but necessarily robust, terms that not only is this nonsense but it is dangerous nonsense that puts children at risk when it is imported into the curriculum of schools.”

Free Speech Ireland’s petition currently has 2,278 signatures at the time of writing, with a goal of 10,000 signatures. 

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