Moves to produce hate crime legislation have been likened to new “secular blasphemy laws”, which threaten freedom of speech, according to a Tipperary TD.
Mattie McGrath spoke to The Irish Catholic after he made comments criticising legislation regarding hate speech in the Dáil last week.
During a debate on Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill 2019 Mr McGrath said: “In fact, we appear to be getting ready to put in place a kind of secular blasphemy law where it will be a criminal offence to say almost anything deemed offensive by the great and good who constitute the new elite in our society.”
Elaborating, he told this paper that the political narrative on the issue “amounts to little more than an attempt to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the new dominant political prejudices”.
“The new arbiters of free speech also have a peculiarly narrow definition of what constitutes ‘hate speech’ or indeed a hate crime. The new secular orthodoxy is ideologically puritanical and so it must have its defenders and legislative tools to defend it.”
Currently there is a public consultation being conducted by the Department of Justice and Equality as part of a review of the legislation on hate speech. This will run until December 13.
The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 which covers certain forms of threatening, abusive or insulting conduct intended to stir up hatred on account of person’s characteristics will be focused on. This includes race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community and sexual orientation.
Mr McGrath expressed concern about proposed changes to legislation and their purpose, saying: “I worry that we are now entering a period where genuine freedom of speech and thought is merely paid lip service while a new smothering conformity is smuggled in under the guise of respect for conscience.”
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said the legislation is “weaker” than it should be, which is why the Government are seeking improvements. There have been 50 prosecutions under existing legislation over the last 30 years – with few convictions.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Drivetime at the launch of the public consultation at the end of last month he said: “I don’t want to interfere with the fundamental freedom of speech but at the same time I’m very concerned about what I’m hearing as to the manner in which minority groups in particular are being treated and the fact that offensive speech, hate speech is becoming common place in Ireland.”