Sanctions for political parties or election candidates involved in “discriminatory actions or rhetoric” is among the recommendations in a draft report being considered by TDs and Senators.
The report also includes a recommendation that new transparency rules for online political advertising should not be limited to election campaigns, as proposed in the Electoral Reform Bill 2020.
The Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage has been conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of the Government's Bill. The Bill includes plans for a new electoral commission, an overhaul of the electoral register and the regulation of online political advertising.
The committee is to produce a report on its scrutiny of the proposed law.
An early draft of the report has been prepared by Oireachtas officials based on contributions to committee meetings by various stakeholders, along with written submissions. Committee sources said the report has not had direct input from TDs and Senators as yet and that the recommendations are subject to change.
The draft, seen by The Irish Times, includes a recommendation that the new electoral commission would be mandated “to develop guidelines and standards governing political discourse during referendum and electoral events”.
Another recommendation is that “the proposed Bill provide for the sanctioning of political parties or candidates who engage in discriminatory actions or rhetoric”.
The draft report does not offer a suggestion of what the sanctions should be or how they would be enforced.
One source suggested that there would be “difficulties” in implementing such a law, questioning how breaches would be decided upon.
They also said that recommendations that do not offer detail on how they would be implemented are less likely to be taken on board by the Government as it drafts the final legislation.
TDs and Senators had until Wednesday of this week to submit amendments to the committee’s draft report ahead of discussions next week aimed at finalising the document.
The commentary in the draft document outlines how Catherine Lane of the National Women's Council of Ireland recommended that the new commission "develop standards of political discourse that are free from discriminatory rhetoric and hate speech, and that it should have a role in tackling online abuse".
The report notes that the issue of discrimination was also raised at a committee hearing by Bernard Joyce from the Irish Traveller Movement. It says he highlighted obstacles faced by Travellers to participating fully in political democracy.
It also says he spoke of “a lack of sanctions for running candidates and elected representatives who have, over many years, articulated anti-Travellers sentiment in electioneering matters, often in housing decisions, with some openly canvassing against Travellers as a strategy for election”.
The report says a written submission from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission also raised the subject of discriminatory rhetoric and hate speech in political campaigning, and recommended that the electoral commission be mandated to address the issue.
Separately, the proposed law aims to regulate online political advertising to provide greater transparency during elections, including labelling to show who is behind the ad, who is being targeted by it, and how much it cost.
Another draft recommendation being considered for the committee’s report is that the time period during which the transparency provisions on online political advertising applies should be “extended from just the electoral period to that of an ongoing basis”.