Hate speech law not about ‘catching people out’, says Minister

Law will target those who ‘intentionally or recklessly’ incite hate

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. Photograph: Department of the Taoiseach

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. Photograph: Department of the Taoiseach

 

The Government’s planned laws against hate speech are not about “catching people out” for misspeaking. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.

Speaking Thursday at the launch of a report recommending stronger hate speech and hate crime legislation, the Minister said the laws will target people who “intentionally or recklessly” incite hatred against individuals or groups.

The test for criminal hate speech will be the perpetrator’s intentions, not how the speech was perceived by the victim.

The Bill, which is due to be drafted over the coming months, will list trans people and people with disabilities, alongside already protected groups such as other members of the LGBT community people, refugees and immigrants, Travellers and ethnic and religious groups.

Asked if it will be an offence to misgender a trans person or use their former name, Mr McEntee said: “We’re not trying to catch people out, this is not something you can stumble into by accident. This is not about somebody causing offence to somebody else or misspeaking.

“What is very clear is we’re talking about a intention or recklessness to incite hatred against one individual or a group of people.”

The Minister said she was legislating for a “very serious type of crime that has very serious consequences for individuals. But this isn’t about somebody who might say something without intending to cause harm.

“That would obviously be a much wider scope and it wouldn’t be implementable.”

Recommendations

The report, which was drafted by Department of Justice officials following a public consultation process involving some 3,600 responses, issues ten recommendations which will feed into the Bill.

There should be protections for free speech such as “good faith” contributions to debate, academia and the arts, it states.

There should also be a separate offence making it a crime to share or distribute hate speech. This would include sharing someone else’s post on social media with the intent to incite hate.

It is important that the intent of the law is communicated clearly to prevent thousands of people who may have taken offence at an internet post or comment “trying to press charges and going to the gardaí,” the Minister said.

“It’s important that we communicate this properly to the public and that’s why this public consultation is so important. But also important that the legal system, the gardaí, the judiciary are all very clear of what it is that can be prosecuted and not.”

Asked if the law will require the hiring of more gardaí to process complaints, Ms McEntee said she has not been made aware of any huge need for additional resources “but obviously if that is something that transpires as this develops, we will take that on board.”

The Minister said she expects to bring legislation to Cabinet by Easter 2021.