The Irish Government will postpone discussions over the country’s proposed legislation on hate speech.
Ireland’s planned Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 has provoked significant outcry both nationally and internationally, with US billionaire Elon Musk among those criticising the proposed bill.
Twitter owner Musk earlier this year described Ireland’s planned law as a “massive attack on freedom of speech”.
Ireland’s coalition government has remained bullish on the measures, with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee having repeatedly pushed to assuage concerns regarding the legislation.
According to a report in the Irish Times, however, the government is now postponing discussions on the bill to the autumn at the earliest, despite the document initially being scheduled for debate in the Irish senate next week.
Numerous senators within the ruling Fianna Fáil party are also now reportedly expressing uncertainty regarding the bill, with some members said to be concerned by its relatively broad scope, as well as the potentially negative effect it might have on free speech.
However, others argue the bill is not yet fit for purpose. Fianna Fáil senator Lorraine Clifford Lee claimed that provisions banning genocide denial within the draft law do not go far enough, asking that it be made easier to prosecute someone for breaking that provision.
She has also requested there be specific reference to Holocaust denial added to the bill, something the government has so far avoided.
Speaking to Brussels Signal regarding the extension of talks, a spokesman for the campaign group Free Speech Ireland celebrated the delay.
“We are delighted with the decision to postpone the enactment of this bill and look forward to the senators putting forward amendments to the bill in due course,” he said, expressing hope that such potential changes may soften the proposed legislation, which the organisation wants reworked or scrapped altogether.
“Free Speech Ireland credits the people of Ireland who are vocal and active in voicing their concerns with this bill,” the spokesman added. “This delay is the product of their efforts and we thank them for their assistance with this campaign.”
Under the current version of the draft law, possessing physical or digital material deemed to be hateful could be regarded as a criminal offence should the accused be unable to prove that they had no intention of spreading an offending document.
Such a provision has been compared to “thought crime” by one critical senator. The fact that the planned bill fails to define what “hate” or “hateful” might be is also prompting serious concerns both within Ireland and abroad.