The Justice Minister says she is ‘absolutely confident’ Ireland’s new hate crime laws will not impact free speech or stifle debate.
The new laws will introduce harsher penalties for crimes committed against someone due to their race, colour, nationality, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
The legislation has two ‘tests’ built into it – meaning the courts will need to be convinced a crime was either motivated by hate or actively demonstrated hate in order to prosecute it as a hate crime.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said she is “absolutely confident” the laws won’t impact on open debate.
“I have to very clear,” she said. “This is not about infringing on free speech.”
“This is not about people having different ideological views or even insulting another person because of their view or having a different perception of things.
“This is where you intentionally incite hatred against another person simply because of who they are.
“So, by insulting them or criticising them alone, that is not enough. Even though it might be offensive, that’s not enough to reach the threshold.”
The minister said the legislation includes “specific protections” that ensure it can’t impact on open and free debate.
“I’m absolutely confident about that and I’m confident because, in particular in the UK, they’ve had this legislation in place for quite a number of years - for over two decades - and what they’ve not seen is an opening of the flood gates and people being prosecuted for having opposing views or different views,” she said.
“What we’re introducing here is a very clear safeguard to make sure that just because a debate is happening around a particular protected characteristic – say sexual orientation or identity – that doesn’t mean that because a person is offended [doesn’t make it a hate crime].
“It is also an objective test. So you’re talking about what another individual or what a normal person shall we say would think about what has been said or done.
“It’s not just the victim that is taken into account – that’s absolutely vital here. It’s about, what would a reasonable person think when they see that. Do they think this could incite hatred against another group or people or an individual?
"Laws that have teeth'
Minister McEntee will officially announce the new measures later today, with legislation to be introduced in the Oireachtas later this year.
she told Newstalk said the new legislation would ensure Irish laws “have teeth” – noting that it will help crack down on “absolutely appalling” incidents.
She also used the interview to set out exactly how the new legislation will work.
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