Ciara Kelly has said she has “serious and sincere reservations” about Ireland’s proposed new hate speech laws, warning that they are “a dangerous road to go down”.
She was speaking after Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea called the Justice Minister to ‘focus on tackling crime and stop playing to the woke gallery’.
Writing in the Sunday Independent yesterday, the Limerick TD said people in his constituency are more concerned about the “growing problem of street crime and wanton anti-social behaviour” than some of the other issues the Department of Justice is focusing on.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Ciara took particular issue with the upcoming Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill, which is now at Committee Stage in the Oireachtas.
“I have serious and sincere reservations about our hate speech laws because be careful what you wish for,” said Ciara.
“You bring in a law that, maybe, is well intended and, actually, what you do is you give government power to restrict the rights of free speech of its citizens – and that is a dangerous road to go down.”
Currently, Ireland’s hate speech laws prohibit any communication in public intended or likely to be threatening or abusive, and likely to stir up hatred against a person due to their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnicity, Traveller origins, and/or sexual orientation.
However, those laws were written when the internet was in its infancy and social media did not exist and Justice Minister Helen McEntee is now aiming to bring forward new laws for the digital age.
Opponents of the legislation have voiced concern that the new laws go too far and will stifle free speech.
“Nastiness isn’t illegal and criminalising nastiness and offence and those type of things is a dangerous road to take,” said Ciara.
The 'woke' trap
Fellow presenter Jonathan Healy took a different view.
“Willie has set a trap into which a lot of people have fallen this morning by just adding one word and that one word is ‘woke’,” he said.
“Because, somehow, it belittles and demeans the initiatives and the ideas behind the changes in the legislation.
“When we are talking about evolving the law and changing the law to meet the demands of society, we are doing it for the right reasons.
“To somehow conflate the two issues that this is going to overwhelm An Garda Síochána to investigate hate crime is a load of nonsense, because they will still do what they need to do, and they will do this as well.
“The problem is they still don’t have enough resources allocated to them to do what they need to do.”
Ciara said Government should be focusing on increasing the number of Gardaí on the streets, rather than bringing in laws she believes are not necessary.
“I have looked at the Department of Justice for a while now and wondered, why the impetus for these, sort of, trendy laws,” she said.
“I know we have to deal with new issues in society as they arise – except for, I am not sure they are arising.
“We are bringing in a law against conversion therapy – we had the head of the National Gender Service on this show telling us that conversion therapy doesn’t exist – it doesn’t exist in this country.
“So, we are bringing in a law to deal with something that doesn’t exist.
“We are bringing in a law against spiking. There was a big thing online for ages about people being spikes with injections – that doesn’t exist.
“If you ask A&E consultants what happens when they bring in people who were allegedly spiked, all they find in their system is excess alcohol.
“That is what happens when people think they have been spiked – excess alcohol.”
A recent report by the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin spoke to 11 people who had been exposed to conversion therapy in Ireland in the last five years.
One participant told the researchers he had been forcibly given electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) when he was 12 years old to change his sexual orientation and gender identity.
The report included in-depth interviews with seven victims of the practice and is set to inform the Government’s plans to ban conversion therapy in Ireland.
Ciara said she would prefer to see Gardaí handed the resources to deal with the crimes we already have.
“We don’t have enough resources to deal with the bread and butter issues and then we’re going are going off on these esoteric issues, does that not concern you? Because it concerns me,” she said.