We recently discussed a troubling conviction in Great Britain of a man for his “toxic ideology.” Now Ireland appears ready to replicate that case a thousand fold. The proposed Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 would criminalize the possession of material deemed hateful.
It is a full frontal assault on speech and associational rights. The law would allow for sweeping authoritarian measures in defining opposing viewpoints hateful. Ireland appears to be picking up the cudgel of speech criminalization from Britain, an abusive power once used against the Irish.
The law is a free speech nightmare. Even before addressing the crime of possession of harmful material, the law would “provide for an offence of condoning, denying or grossly trivialising genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.” The crime of condoning, denying or grossly trivailising” criminal conduct would make most autocrats blush. The lack of any meaningful definition invites arbitrary enforcement. The law expressly states the intent to combat “forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.”
What is so striking about the law is how utterly unapologetic it is in the use of criminal law to curtail not just free speech but free thought. It allows for the prosecution of citizens for “preparing or possessing material likely to incite violence or hatred against persons on account of their protected characteristics.” That could sweep deeply into not just political but literary expression.
The interest of the Irish in assuming such authoritarian measures is chilling given their own history under British rule, including violent crackdowns on nonviolent protests like “Bloody Sunday.” Free speech is now in a free fall in Great Britain and Ireland appears eager to follow suit.