Is the Proposed Hate Crime Bill Fit For Purpose?

Photo of woman with duct tape criss-crossed over her mouth, holding her finger to it

We represent two grassroots organisations, The Countess Didn’t Fight For This and Radicailín, whose combined members are deeply concerned about the impact on freedom of expression, enforceability and unintended consequences of the proposed Criminal Justice Hate Crime Bill 2020 introduced by Senators Fiona O’Loughlin, Lisa Chambers and Robbie Gallagher.

While we welcome the undoubtedly well-meaning motivation behind the bill, there needs to be a discussion with regards to the implementation and potential ramifications of this bill based on the broad and muddied scope of definitions.

The bill, in its current form, is not fit for purpose. The definition of hate is based not on objective or even the reasonable belief of the victim but is entirely subjective. There is no requirement of proof.

Are words and artwork covered in this? Does it cover online activity? Would liking or sharing materials perceived as offensive towards a protected category be considered a hate crime?

We are concerned it will impede on freedom of expression in criticising ideologies or beliefs. For example, if someone criticises the harshness of Sharia law with a post on social media, will that person be found guilty of an offence? Following a referendum in May 2018, the Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Act 2018, blasphemy is no longer a constitutional offence. But under the proposed Hate Crime Bill, will it once again become an offence since an individual’s religion is protected?

Hate crime, according to this bill includes any offence that is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by prejudice based on the individual’s asylum or refugee status, race, colour, religion, nationality, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity, sex characteristics, age or perceived age. However, despite 82% of recorded victims of sexual violence being females according to CSO, 50 women die every week from male domestic violence according to European Women’s Lobby and the fact that 230 women have died violently in Ireland between 1996-2019 according to Women’s Aid Ireland, sex as a protected category is not included in this bill. Is it because crimes against girls and women in Irish society is so common that the authors of the Bill knew that something so obviously unenforceable and impractical should not be included?

The bill also defines “transgender identity” to include transvestite, transsexual, intersexual or having changed gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2015. Currently, there are two biologically male prisoners in the women’s wing of Limerick prison because they have changed their gender legally on paper. We take issue with this as both are sex offenders and pose a danger to women. We need to have a grown up conversation in this country about the Gender Recognition Act which currently allows anyone to legally change their sex and therefore access single sex provisions without hormones or surgery. This bill could criminalise the debate we need to have.

We maintain our stance that people should have the right to critique ideas for a democratic society to flourish and we call on our public representatives to push for greater clarity around the definitions and urge you to consider the significant chilling effects on freedom of expression.

If you share our concerns, please email your TDs. You can use our template below.

I am writing to you because I am deeply concerned about the impact on freedom of expression, enforceability and unintended consequences of the proposed Criminal Justice Hate Crime Bill 2020 introduced by Senators Fiona O’Loughlin, Lisa Chambers and Robbie Gallagher. While I welcome the undoubtedly well-meaning motivation behind the bill, there needs to be a discussion with regards to the implementation and potential ramifications of this bill based on the broad and muddied scope of definitions. The bill, in its current form, is not fit for purpose. The definition of hate is based not on objective or even the reasonable belief of the victim but is entirely subjective. There is no requirement of proof. Are words and artwork covered in this? Does it cover online activity? Would liking or sharing materials perceived as offensive towards a protected category be considered a hate crime? I am concerned that it will impede on freedom of expression in criticising ideologies or beliefs. For example, if someone criticises the harshness of Sharia law with a post on social media, will that person be found guilty of an offence? Following a referendum in May 2018, the Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Act 2018, blasphemy is no longer a constitutional offence. But under the proposed Hate Crime Bill, will it once again become an offence since an individual’s religion is protected? Hate crime, according to this bill includes any offence that is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by prejudice based on the individual’s asylum or refugee status, race, colour, religion, nationality, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity, sex characteristics, age or perceived age. However, despite 82% of recorded victims of sexual violence being females according to CSO, 50 women die every week from male domestic violence according to European Women’s Lobby and the fact that 230 women have died violently in Ireland between 1996-2019 according to Women’s Aid Ireland, sex as a protected category is not included in this bill. Is it because crimes against girls and women in Irish society is so common that the authors of the Bill knew that something so obviously unenforceable and impractical should not be included? The bill also defines “transgender identity” to include transvestite, transsexual, intersexual or having changed gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2015. Currently, there are two biologically male prisoners in the women’s wing of Limerick prison because they have changed their gender legally on paper. We take issue with this as both are sex offenders and pose a danger to women. We need to have a grown up conversation in this country about the Gender Recognition Act which currently allows anyone to legally change their sex and therefore access single sex provisions without hormones or surgery. This bill could criminalise the debate we need to have. People should have the right to critique ideas for a democratic society to flourish and I urge you as our public representative to push for greater clarity around the definitions and urge you to consider the significant chilling effects on freedom of expression.

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