The Government’s Hate Crime Bill will lead to “public disorder”, Senator Michael McDowell has predicted.
The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill is currently being considered by Seanad Éireann and, if passed, would ban “incitement to violence or hatred against a person or a group of persons on account of certain characteristics”.
Senator McDowell said he was concerned the bill would lead to people making citizens’ arrests on people they believe have committed hate speech.
“If you give people a statutory right to arrest another, where they have reasonable ground to believe that they’re engaging in hate speech or behaving in a manner which would incite violence or hate speech towards any other individual on the grounds of protected characteristics, you are entitled, if this bill becomes law in its present state, to arrest that person,” the barrister and former Justice Minister told The Hard Shoulder.
Senator McDowell said Ireland is in “an era of cancel culture” and the definition of ‘hatred’ needs to be clearly spelt out in the bill.
“It has to be a high degree of animosity likely to engender violence against that person,” he said.
“But if you 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, then you are walking down the road towards public disorder.”
Senator McDowell gave antisemitism as an example of a hatred where the definition is hotly disputed.
“Some definitions say that opposition to the existence of the State of Israel is antisemitism,” he said.
“Others say, ‘No, no, that’s not antisemitism.’
“These things have to be very clearly defined before you say that you’re going to criminalise somebody and expose them to a five-year prison sentence.”
Justice Minister Helen McEntee has described Ireland’s current hate crime legislation as “ineffective, limited and largely discredited.”
She also said, “When a communication incites hatred or violence against others, a very clear line is crossed and such behaviour must be dealt with through effective, and prosecutable, legal recourse.”
Main image: Michael McDowell