Proposed new curbs on hate speech are “destined to have a chilling effect on free speech”, Rónán Mullen has said.
The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill is currently being considered by the Oireachtas and if passed would ban “incitement to violence or hatred against a person or a group of persons on account of certain characteristics”
The legislation would also ban people from “condoning, denying or grossly trivialising genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace”.
The bill has attracted international opposition - with Donald Trump Jnr and Elon Musk denouncing it - and Senator Mullen believes it is poorly drafted.
“It is using the criminal law that is destined to have a chilling effect on free speech,” he told The Hard Shoulder.
“It is extremely vague, it basically criminalises a person if they behave or if they communicate material that is likely to incite ‘hatred’ but there is a complete failure to define ‘hatred’.”
Fine Gael’s Barry Ward supports the bill and believes it is necessary to protect marginalised groups from hate speech.
“These people are being targeted all the time,” he said.
“They aren’t entitled to enjoy their lives at the moment because of the amount of hatred and violence that is aimed at them.
“Now, what this bill does is it tries to say that’s not okay and it’s actually criminal to do it.
“You talk about rights, Rónán, you’re disturbing those people’s constitutional right to enjoy their free time, their space, their workplace, the public realm in this country and many of them can’t do that.”
'Getting the balance right'
Senator Mullen said he was “not a free speech absolutist” but predicted the legislation would negatively impact ordinary people.
“This is about getting the balance right and our democracy needs to let people express their ideas,” he said.
“It’s fine as I said for people like Barry and myself, we’re politicians, we have privilege in the Seanad, we’ve probably got brass neck.
“We’re able to defend ourselves.”
The general principles of the bill are currently being debated by Seanad Éireann.
Main image: Senator Ronan Mullen pictured outside Leinster House. Picture by: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie