Ministers Flanagan and Stanton launch consultation on hate speech
- Public asked for views on updating law on incitement to hatred
- Variety of ways to contribute
- Consultation on hate crime to follow in the new year
24 October 2019
The Government is seeking the public’s views as part of an update of Ireland’s criminal law on hate speech and hate crime.
The first phase of the consultation process - which focuses on how the law deals with those who seek to encourage and incite other people to hate minority groups (hate speech) - was launched this morning by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, and the Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton TD, at Dublin Bus, Conyngham Road.
The Ministers were joined at the launch by Dublin Bus drivers Julita Banach and Victor Isere, Dublin Bus Head of Human Resources Phil Donohue, Cllr Yemi Adenuga, Cllr Hazel Chu, Dr Sindy Joyce, athlete Brandon Arrey, Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh, community worker Gabi Muntean, human rights advocate Salome Mbugua, activist and club promoter Lisa Connell, and representatives of the Gaelic Players Association.
Speaking at the launch, Minister Flanagan said:
“Ireland has become a different society over the past 20 years, a much more diverse country, one in which people’s differences can be accepted and embraced as bringing value to our communities. There is, however, evidence that a minority of people are determined to subject others to abuse and attack resulting from nothing more than their own prejudice and intolerance. This abuse can take place anywhere – on the street, on public transport, on the sports field, online and everywhere in between. I want to make clear that this is not acceptable to the Government and not acceptable to the people of Ireland.”
Dublin Bus Chief Executive Ray Coyne said:
“This consultation launched today is an important step in creating awareness of the impact of hate speech and hate crimes. All of the people of Ireland should be able to fully integrate and participate in our communities without hate. At Dublin Bus we believe our employees from 71 different countries and our 143 million customers should work and live in a society that embraces diversity, that promotes inclusivity and that values respect.”
There are three ways in which the public can contribute to this consultation on hate speech, which will run until 13 December:
- An online questionnaire hosted on the Department of Justice and Equality website;
- A structured set of workshops designed to hear specifically from minority communities;
- A public call for detailed submissions, aimed at those with expert knowledge of the subject or the operation of the current legislation.
The online questionnaire is now available online at www.justice.ie. A facilitator for the community-based workshops will be appointed shortly and details will be announced on the Department’s website. The public call for submissions can also be found on the Department of Justice and Equality website. The closing date for submissions is 13 December 2019.
The outcome of the consultation will help shape the amendment of Ireland’s existing law on incitement to hatred (hate speech).
Encouraging the public to participate, Minister Flanagan added:
“My aim in this entire process is to ensure that anyone who is subject to hate speech, or indeed an incident of hate crime, can be clear that they are fully supported by the laws of the land. As legislators we will also have a responsibility to strike the appropriate balance between ensuring legitimate freedom of expression and tackling unacceptable or criminal behaviour that can have devastating consequences for victims.
“I believe that the views of the public are very important and that is why a consultation is taking place. I am encouraging people to reflect on their own experiences of hate speech, what they have encountered personally or what they have seen, read or heard which they consider hate speech and what kinds of protections they believe the law needs to provide.
“Hearing of people’s direct personal experiences will help the legislative and policy experts in my Department to draft new laws that are robust, clearly understood and capable of delivering justice where these unacceptable incidents occur. Importantly, the consultation will also explore people’s attitudes to the responsibilities of those who play an active part in spreading or distributing hate speech.”
The second phase of the process, which will be published in the New Year, will address the separate but related issue of hate crime. At present, Ireland does not have specific law dealing with hate crime but where hate is identified as part of the motive for a crime, it may result in a harsher sentence from a Court. The Minister for Justice and Equality wishes to bring forward specific legislation on hate crime and, as a first step, the Department is finalising research on the effectiveness of the different legislative approaches to tackling hate crime in other countries, in order to learn from experience elsewhere and use this information to identify the approach that will be most suitable for Ireland.
The research is expected to be completed in November, following which proposals for new hate crime legislation will be brought forward for discussion. It is anticipated that this legislation may cover areas such as a physical attacks on the person, criminal damage to buildings and property, public order offences, breaches of the peace and verbal attacks. As with the hate speech phase, an opportunity will be given to experts, communities and the public to give their views. Details of this second consultation on the related issue of hate crime will be published in the new year.
Minister of State, David Stanton TD added:
“The consultation being announced today is very important and builds on a wide range of work being undertaken by the Department and the Government to tackle racism, prejudice and intolerance. I very much welcome the recent move by the Garda Commissioner to introduce clear guidelines for frontline Gardaí in recording and investigating hate crime. The Commissioner’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy will help ensure the Gardaí respond consistently and robustly to reports of hate crime and I welcome his commitment to enhanced training for Gardaí in this regard.
The Migrant Integration Strategy has a strong anti-racism focus, and sets out a whole-of-Government approach to intercultural awareness and combatting racism and xenophobia, while the new Anti-Racism Committee which I announced over the summer will shortly begin its work to help ensure that we are doing all we possibly can to tackle racism. Similarly, my Department will shortly publish a National Strategy to address some of the problems faced by the LGBTI+ citizens of Ireland, which will help improve our legislative and operational response to hate crime and harmful or illegal online content.”
A discussion paper and further information on the public consultation on hate speech are on the Department of Justice and Equality website www.justice.ie.
Notes for Editors:
DETAILS OF HATE SPEECH CONSULTATION
Some forms of hate speech are already a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 which prohibits threatening, abusive or insulting conduct that is intended or likely to stir up hatred against a group of persons on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation. This conduct is not only socially unacceptable; it is also illegal and the existing law contains provision for serious consequences, potentially up to and including a lengthy prison sentence. However, there have been few prosecutions since the law was introduced 30 years ago.
The aim of this consultation is to gather evidence and views as to how this legislation might be updated to ensure that it operates as effectively as possible.
Questions in the online questionnaire include:
- In your opinion, what groups or communities of people in Ireland are targeted by hate speech?
- Please describe the kinds of hate speech that you think are (or are not) serious enough to be a criminal offence.
- Is it necessary or right to place limits on freedom of expression by making some forms of hate speech a crime? If so, what protections do you think the law on incitement to hatred should offer?
- Do you think those who are actively involved in publishing, spreading or distributing hate speech should be subject to criminal prosecution?
- Is there anything else important we should take into account as part of this review?
Further detailed questions on the operation of the existing legislation are included in the consultation paper for experts, while the workshops designed for minority communities will ask a range of questions designed to understand the experiences of those affected by hate speech and what laws they feel are necessary in this area.
HATE CRIME RESEARCH
Hate crime differs from hate speech in that it involves a criminal offence (e.g. assault or criminal damage) where the victim is targeted because of their association with a particular identity characteristic, such as their sexual orientation or ethnicity. Ireland does not currently have specific legislation dealing with hate crime, although a hate motive is an aggravating factor that judges can take into account at sentencing for any criminal offence.
Separate to its work on hate speech, the Department of Justice and Equality is conducting research on the effectiveness of different approaches to hate crime law in other countries to see which (if any) model might be most effective in this country. This research is due to conclude next month (November) and the results will inform the development of new Irish law to deal with hate crime. Members of the public will also have an opportunity to submit their views in the course of drafting this legislation.
ONLINE SAFETY COMMISSIONER
This work will be complemented by the work of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, who are preparing legislation in relation to the regulation of tech companies in respect of harmful content. This provision for a regulator to oversee online safety, which has been widely discussed and is in line with the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission Report. This legislation is where issues such as codes of conduct for tech companies, requirements to put measures in place to deal with harmful content and so forth will be dealt with.