Under new government proposals to combat bigotry and racism, it will become a criminal offence to share hate speech on social media.
The sharing of hateful speech on platforms such as Twitter or Facebook will constitute a crime, even if the sharer is not the original author of the content.
Repeal of Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act
The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 will be repealed with the proposal of the new Bill, as the former is considered ineffective by the Department of Justice in combating hate speech. For the first time, the Bill will also offer protection to trans and disabled people alongside ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants and other members of the LGBT community.
While existing legislation protected only groups from incitement to hatred, the updated Bill will protect both individuals and groups.
In the foreword to the report, Minister McEntee stated that she is “determined to tackle these crimes and to ensure that those who seek to divide our communities and spread hatred and fear are dealt with effectively by our criminal justice system”.
Minister McEntee further added that a public consultation had found “considerable disquiet” over public figures using the media and online platforms “to promote racist stereotypes and harmful myths in order to generate attention for their campaigns”, and that participants were strongly of the view that greater protection is needed for those who are victims of hate speech.
High Bar for Prosecutions
Although the new legislation will be welcomed, there will be a high bar for hate speech prosecutions, and the law will protect freedom of speech. “Good faith” contributions to public debates, academia and the arts would be exempt.
However, hate speech would not necessarily have to be considered abusive or threatening in nature to warrant legal action. The report states that “A broadcast or speech which is clearly designed to incite hatred, but is couched in polite or coded language, would be covered by the new offence”.
The Bill also plans to include tougher sentences for “hate crimes”, such as assaults involving racism or homophobia.
*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.