12 February 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said that Ireland may be falling short of its obligations under human rights law to protect people from the most extreme forms of hate speech.
In a submission to the Department of Justice review of the Prohibition on Incitement to Hatred Act, ICCL called for an investigation into whether the Act has been effective in prohibiting speech which amounts to incitement to hatred, and if not, why not. ICCL also said that, on the other end of the scale, the Act may be overly broad in criminalising less extreme categories of hate speech which should be dealt with in other ways.
Author of the report, Doireann Ansbro, said:
Criminalising hate speech should only be done in the most extreme cases such as incitement to genocide, propaganda for war, or clear incitement to violence. These instances are rare, but they do occur and it is important that we protect people from them.
The Incitement to Hatred Act was intended to respond appropriately to extreme hate speech but the failure to secure successful prosecutions over thirty years suggests it is not working. We need more research, including consultations with impacted groups, to tell us why this is. We certainly need to redefine the legislation so that all targetted groups are explicitly protected. We may also need to recalibrate the Act so that it better achieves its aims while not unduly impacting on freedom of expression.
Under international law, there is a distinction between extreme hate speech which must be prohibited; hate speech which may be prohibited; and deeply offensive speech which is problematic but should not be prohibited. This is known as the hate speech pyramid.
ICCL holds freedom of expression as one of our core values. We we do not advocate legislation to deal with hate speech, except in the most extreme circumstances outlined above. However, we emphasise that non-extreme hate speech threatens freedom of expression when those who are targetted self-censor or withdraw from public participation as a result. The government must respond appropriately when rights are violated or threatened like this.
There are many non-legislative steps the government is obliged to take to counter non-extreme hate speech. These include robust public policies aimed at countering stereotypes, ending all forms of discrimination, and promoting equality. Education, monitoring, training, and facilitating counter-speech should all form part of the government strategy in tackling deeply offensive speech and non-extreme hate speech.The government should also introduce hate crime legislation and review the law on defamation.
Since our inception in 1976, ICCL has defended the right to freedom of expression. That has included campaigning against Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act and against the censorship of publications advocating LGBTIQ+ rights. We continue to call for the repeal of the Censorship of Publications Act. In 1978, ICCL was the first body to call for Freedom of Information legislation. We championed the repeal of legislation criminalising blasphemy and we continue to criticise Irish defamation laws because of their chilling effect on free expression. We advocate the same free expression rights both online and off.
Notes for Editors
Please find the full report here: https://www.iccl.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/ICCL-DoJ-Hate-Speech-Submission.pdf
Find a briefing for media here: https://www.iccl.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Briefing-ICCL-DoJ-hate-speech-submission-1.pdf
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is Ireland’s leading independent human rights campaigning organisation. We monitor, educate and campaign to secure human rights for everyone in Ireland.
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