Hate speech bill – out with the old and in with the new?

Hate speech bill – out with the old and in with the new?

In September 2020 Trinity College’s Historical Society, or the Hist, rescinded an invitation to prominent Atheist and religion sceptic Richard Dawkins because the “comfort of members” of the centuries-old society was, apparently, at stake.

Having “read his Wikipedia page and researched him briefly” the auditor of the supposedly illustrious society, founded in 1747, stated that she, “regretfully… didn’t look further into him before moving forward with the invitation” citing his views on Islam, inter alia, as a reason for the cancellation.

Dawkins had hitherto incurred the wrath of the progressive elements of society due to his no-holds-barred scathing critiques of various shibboleths, especially religion.

But while his attacks on Christianity and Judaism are deemed acceptable and reasonable by most, Islam is apparently beyond reproach among the Abrahamic faiths.

In the past Dawkins has described Islam as a “force for evil” and, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France when Jihadists murdered 11 journalists and security personnel who parodied Islam and other faiths, he stated, “They shouted ‘We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad’… Some useful idiot will claim it had nothing to do with religion.”

Several members of the university’s staff were quick to remind the sensitive students what college life is supposed to be about.


Economics lecturer and former member of the Hist Ronan Lyons mentioned, “College life is supposed to be a time where you are out of your comfort zone and where you are challenged by ideas that might be different to your own,” adding: “The idea of ‘comfort’ just doesn’t come into it.”

As an avid debater and former Irish Times Debating Finalist, this writer finds the idea of students narrowing discussion down to the ‘comfort’ of others as an affront to what it means to be a debating society.

The whole point of a debate is you engage in a robust discussion of ideas that may be uncomfortable and, for some, beyond the pale but hopefully provide the participants and observers with a clearer understanding of their view and the views of others.

This helps society at large to reach closer to the truth.

This isn’t the only egregious example of cancel culture on a college campus.

The vagueness and undefined nature of the term ‘hate’ has caused concern among free speech advocates and certain politicians”

In 2017, Katie Ascough was removed from UCD’s Student Union after she prevented information on abortion from being published in a magazine aimed at first-year students.

Ascough was behaving within the parameters of the law as this occurred before Ireland legalised abortion.

However, her colleagues reacted with venom and used the opportunity to oust her as president of the UCDSU.

Unfortunately, in modern Ireland, what some thought confined to histrionic youths at the Hist and UCD, the State is slowly but surely clamping down on debate seeking to impose a thought crime statute on the masses.

The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 is set to be enacted later this year having passed the Dáil but currently suspended in the Seanad.

The Bill seeks to replace the current Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989.

Under the putative legislation, people with “protected characteristics” which include race, nationality, sexual orientation, and religion among others will be granted new legal protections against violent or non-violent ‘hateful’ acts.

The vagueness and undefined nature of the term ‘hate’ has caused concern among free speech advocates and certain politicians.

Senator Michael McDowell has stated that a failure to define hate could, “allow ordinary citizens the right to make that judgement and use violence themselves to detain a person they think is using hate speech against them”, which he fears could lead to “public disorder”.

But while hate is not defined the promoters of cancel culture, such as those at the Hist and UCD, and proponents of the Bill have made clear exactly what they mean by ‘hate’ – views they find challenging and uncomfortable.

The Bill also seeks to criminalise possession of supposedly hateful material “with a view to the material being communicated to the public or a section of the public”.

All it takes is one member of An Garda Síochána to authorise a search warrant of the home of the possessor of such material allowing them to demand their password and seize their devices. If one refuses to comply a year-long jail sentence can be imposed.

Would possession of Richard Dawkins material constitute hate?

Certainly, a sizeable number of students at Trinity think so.

And given hate is, de jure, deemed subjective rather than objective under the Bill and is ultimately down to what others ‘perceive’ as such it is highly likely Dawkins content or pro-life sentiments could fall under the realm of hateful material.


This Bill is a socially regressive piece of legislation which puts to rest the notion of Ireland as a progressive and more tolerant society.

While we like to view ourselves as a more enlightened people with the dark days of Church dogma confined to the dustbin of history many people in Ireland today feel uncomfortable with expressing their true beliefs for fear of reprimand.

The new religion of progressivism has created a new caste of enlightened at the top and heretics at the bottom to be punished.

This in spite of the fact that there is an acknowledgement that our old censorious ways were wrong.

In 2018 the Irish public overwhelmingly approved the 37th Amendment of the Constitution removing the “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” enacted in 1937.

Like the current hate speech bill, blasphemy was not defined but in Ireland back then most people understood what blasphemy meant.

The purpose of the amendment was to create a chilling effect around what people felt they could and could not say.

When comedian Stephen Fry fell afoul of the amendment by referring to God as capricious, mean-minded and stupid the Gardaí confirmed they were investigating the offence but dropped the case after failing to find enough offended people.

This was the final nail in the coffin that catapulted the ‘medieval’ amendment to be repealed and replaced.

But as Ireland taps itself on the back for disregarding its old orthodoxies it seems it is now ushering in new ones.

College life is supposed to be a time where you are out of your comfort zone and where you are challenged by ideas that might be different to your own”

Theo McDonald is a freelance journalist.