Rights body should be able to police ‘hate speech’ ahead of elections

Commission says campaign debates should not be characterised by discriminatory discourse

Galway West TD Noel Grealish has been criticised this week for singling out Nigerian-born residents, using misstated figures that exceed State calculations on the amount being remitted. File photograph: Alan Betson

Galway West TD Noel Grealish has been criticised this week for singling out Nigerian-born residents, using misstated figures that exceed State calculations on the amount being remitted. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

The State’s proposed Electoral Commission should have powers to police intolerance and hate speech during election campaigns, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) said.

Debates during elections and referendums should be free and open, it added, but they should not be characterised by discriminatory discourse or what amounts to “hate speech”.

“Political discourse that fosters a climate of hostility and intolerance can exclude targeted groups from the public sphere,” the IHREC, led by Emily Logan, said.

The opinion was expressed last March in a submission to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, which is looking to establish an independent statutory commission to oversee political conduct and elections.

News of the commission’s submissions comes in the wake of controversial remarks made about Nigerian immigrants remitting money home made by Galway Independent TD Noel Grealish.

In its submission, the IHREC proposed that the commission should have an independent policy development role on standards in public discourse, working with the political parties and candidates.

Hostility

In the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has promoted voluntary principles calling on political parties to commit to ensuring their members do not generate hostility, discrimination, prejudice or division.

The code also calls for parties to ensure members do not engage in conduct that is abusive or denigrating, or that involves “false, erroneous or misleading information”.

The Council of Europe has recommended states encourage political parties to regulate their political discourse and commit to not displaying, publishing or endorsing positions that stir up or invite prejudice, hostility and division.

Work on drafting the general scheme of an Electoral Commission Bill is under way in the Housing Department and may be completed by the end of 2019.

A proposed new law on online political advertising is also being worked on, pending the establishment of the commission.

The obligation will be placed on the online seller of political advertising to determine whether an advert falls under the scope of the regulation.

Online paid-for political advertisements will have to be labelled as such and clearly display certain information.

Meanwhile, Galway West TD Noel Grealish’s remarks overstating figures on remittances by Nigerians living in Ireland were “a weathervane for toxic nationalism”, Minister for State John Halligan has said.

‘Cynical politicking’

The Independent Alliance Minister called on the Independent TD “to refrain from such cynical politicking and pandering to the very worst elements in our society”.

Mr Grealish has been criticised for singling out Nigerian-born residents for special attention with misstated figures that exceed State calculations on the amount of money being remitted.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Central Statistics Office figures show approximately €17 million a year was sent home by the 17,000 Nigerian-born people in Ireland between 2011 and 2017.

This constituted a fraction of the €3.54 billion Mr Grealish claimed was sent to Nigeria over the past eight years.

Mr Halligan said: “It is unfortunate and also disturbing that deputy Noel Grealish has once again decided to single out members of Ireland’s African community for unique and inaccurate scrutiny.” Mr Grealish’s claim was “clearly ludicrous”, he added.

Attempts to contact Mr Grealish were not successful.