What is hate speech?
Hate speech, as defined by the No Hate Speech Movement Ireland, covers all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or attempt to justify any form of hatred, stereotyping or discrimination based on intolerance.
This includes, but is not limited to, intolerance of people based on their ethnic and cultural backgrounds, religious belief, disability and health, sexual orientation and gender identity. Hate speech also includes sexism, misogyny, aggressive nationalism, and all forms of threatening and/or abusive language based on an identifiable characteristic of a person.
Why is it important to make hate speech illegal?
One of the positive aspects of law is that it can have an educating effect and get people to think about some of their attitudes and habits. The plastic bag levy gets people to reuse their plastic bags, not because they necessarily care for the environment, but because it saves them fifteen cents. This becomes a habit and suddenly that person is contributing to a cleaner environment.
Hate crime legislation, admittedly over a long time, can shape the attitudes of a society when it comes to showing tolerance to those who are different from us. The punishment of hate crime offenders as ‘hate offenders’ offers an important public forum of censure (like the stocks, flogging post and gallows that used to be in the town square) and denunciation of the offender’s prejudice. This in turn creates a social climate that will hopefully impact on future generations until tolerance becomes a societal norm.
What is the position in Ireland?
There is no specialist hate crime legislation in Ireland. The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 contains the following definition:
“hatred” means hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation”.
Section 2 says it shall be an offence for a person:
(a) to publish or distribute written material,
(b) to use words, behave or display written material—
(i) in any place other than inside a private residence, or
(ii) inside a private residence so that the words, behaviour or material are heard or seen by persons outside the residence, or
(c) to distribute, show or play a recording of visual images or sounds,
if the written material, words, behaviour, visual images or sounds, as the case may be, are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or, having regard to all the circumstances, are likely to stir up hatred.
In other words, if you keep your hatred within the four walls of your home (and teach your children at home, rather than in the park), you are OK. Just don’t let anyone hear you.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL), in their report, The Lifecycle of a Hate Crime: Country Report for Ireland, tell us that Ireland has one of the highest rates of hate crime against people of African background and transgender people in the EU, but has no laws to address it. They state that Ireland is “seriously deficient” when it comes to addressing hate crime in the state. This is despite Ireland being significantly above the EU average when it came to people from certain groups reporting having been subjected to hate crimes.
A separate report published in December of last year by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) found that 21% of people surveyed from a sub-Saharan African background experienced six or more physical attacks due to their ethnic or immigrant background in the five years preceding the survey.
This compared with an EU group average of 9% – and made Ireland the highest ranking in this area.
In relation to transgender rights, a 2014 FRA study found that Ireland recorded the second highest rate of hate-motivated violence against transgender people in Europe.
A total of 13% of trans people surveyed reported having been physically or sexually assaulted or threatened with violence, in attacks either wholly or partly motivated by transphobia, in the 12 months prior to the survey.
An Irish white man recently called me “a white supremacist from South Africa”. The rest of his comments are too gross to print. Whilst the ignorant conflation of “Mississippi Burning” and “The Long Walk to Freedom” provided some private amusement, that was only because I am old and cynical, and also appreciate the striking similarities between apartheid South Africa and the Deep South. Despite living in Ireland for sixteen years, and being an Irish citizen for eleven years; I still remember just how awful it was in the dark days of apartheid South Africa, and how privileged I was just because of the colour of my skin, despite my beliefs.
Somebody else, on the other hand, might take that sort of remark quite badly, and justifiably so.
People need to talk to each other, rather than at each other. Peace and love people, peace and love.
The “Oyster” is taking a sabbatical. I leave the energy debate in hands far more capable than mine. I have another blog on disability issues which you are welcome to visit.