Cllr Sarah O’Reilly (Aontú).

Cllr welcomes ‘greater interest’ in proposed Bill

Aontú’s Sarah O’Reilly has welcomed more public scrutiny of the proposed Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022.

She welcomed the “greater interest” being shown by the public at large in the proposed legislation when responding to a letter from the office of the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on the matter.

Cllr O’Reilly had previously called on the government to address what she felt were serious issues with the proposed legislation, fearing it might overreach and result in stifling the freedom of expression and opinion.

The updated legislation, currently before the Seanad, seeks to create a landmark set of laws that will make it an offence to deny or trivialise genocide, as well as expanding protections to include gender identity and disability.

The legislation was passed in the Dáil with support from Government and opposition, and passed to second stage by 120 votes to 13.

In the letter attempting to assuage Cllr O’Reilly’s concerns, Minister McEntee said that her department had “conducted extension consultations in inform the development” of the Bill over the past four years.

‘Any claims that the public consultation outcomes are being ignored does not reflect the substantive engagement with key stakeholders since 2019; nor does it reflect the qualitative methodology used in the consultation process that drew on the lived experiences of those most impacted by hate speech and hate crime in Ireland.’

The letter goes onto state that more recent surveys, including by the National LGBT Federation in 2022, indicates that 90% of the public agrees that hate crime ‘needs to be effectively addressed by Irish law. Similarly the Irish Research Council found, from a survey this summer, that out of a sample of 1,000 people, two thirds asked are in favour of hate crime legislation regardless of the model employed’.

Minister McEntee’s letter states that based on “strong advice” from the Attorney General her department had “not sought to limit the definition” of the “widely understood concept of hatred beyond its ordinary and everyday meaning”.

‘Words like opprobrium and enmity are far less used and understood than hatred,’ says the letter, which also cites that, in the UK, there exists an offence for “stirring up hatred”.

But Minister McEntee explains that hatred “would have to be objectively proven” and, for a jury to pass a guilty verdict, they would have to be convinced beyond “reasonable doubt”.

‘It is the view of the Attorney, and it is a view that the Minister shares, that it would be inappropriate to define hatred, or to expand upon it in any way for the purpose of this legislation.’

Hatred, she adds, is a “concept that is well understood” by the courts, and Minister McEntee delivers the “landmark Bill” will provide “far-reaching and vital security” to members of Ireland’s most vulnerable and minority communities.

Addressing the contents of the letter at the September monthly meeting of Cavan County Council, Cllr O’Reilly noted how the leader of the Seanad, Lisa Chambers, had said that concerns about the hate speech element of the bill “are real and genuine”.

The Bill, Cllr O’Reilly said, is getting “very serious push back from the public”, and she said “legitimate questions” about what it will mean for the future freedom of speech in Ireland need answering.