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After the Dublin riot, the free-speech crackdown

The Irish government is using last week's unrest to promote its draconian hate-crime laws.

Ian O'Doherty

Topics Free Speech Politics World

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First came the riots in Dublin. Now we’re witnessing the cynical – and entirely predictable – government exploitation of the events of last Thursday to force Ireland’s draconian new hate-crime bill through the senate.

The violent scenes which were witnessed last week are certainly among the worst in living memory.

Following reports that a naturalised Irish citizen, originally from Algeria, had stabbed women and children outside a school in Dublin’s north inner city, before being wrestled to the ground by brave bystanders, a crowd of protesters arrived at the scene of the crime and started chanting ‘get them out’ and ‘we want our country back’.

Then, as the day went on, O’Connell Street and its environs were turned into a war zone as hundreds of people went on a rampage, resulting in 34 arrests.

Shops were looted. A Garda car was set ablaze and Luas carriages were also burned as the mayhem continued for hours.

To make matters worse, the Gardai seemed to have been completely unprepared for the disorder. The sight of a patrol car beating a hasty retreat while the occupants were jeered and chased by the mob was both pathetic and depressing.

The north inner city has been virtually abandoned by the authorities for the past few years. Cops are now rarely seen on the streets there. And that has led to an explosion of criminality verging on anarchy.

In fact, it was only when a 57-year-old American tourist, Stephen Termini, was savagely assaulted by a gang of feral teenagers earlier this year that the increasingly hapless justice minister, Helen McAntee, was embarrassed into increasing patrols in the area – all while claiming the area was safe and she would have no problem walking through the likes of Talbot Street.

So what was our government’s response to the wild scenes on Thursday? A promise to increase the number of cops on the ground? A pledge to increase the social amenities in this crime black spot?

Not at all. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar immediately started playing with one of his favourite toys – Ireland’s ridiculously stringent new hate-crime laws.

These laws – formally known as the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill – are awaiting approval from Ireland’s senate. If and when they’re passed, they will make it a crime to say anything, in person or online, which anybody from a protected category (race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc) deems to be hateful or offensive.

In the wake of the riots and the mob’s venting against migrants, Varadkar has clearly spied an opportunity to promote this piece of repressive legislation. Over the weekend, he talked once again of the need to ‘modernise our laws against incitement to hatred and hatred in general’. He also promised to bolster the Gardai’s surveillance powers and insisted that the soon-to-be-replaced Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act of 1989 is insufficient in the social-media age.

Yet for all Varadkar’s boosterism, these new hate-speech laws will be an absolute disaster for basic civil liberties. Under these laws, the authorities will be able to use a ‘perception-based test’ to determine what qualifies as a hate crime. This means that anyone who perceives themselves to be a victim of hate, is to be automatically considered as a victim of hate. The Gardai will then be able immediately to swoop down on the offender who could then face up to five years in jail.

These laws are a crank’s charter and one which will be vigorously and cynically exploited by the myriad victim groups currently infesting Ireland. For example, expressing the belief that biology is biology and that women are adult human females could be perceived as ‘hateful’ by trans activists. Voicing gender-critical beliefs could therefore be classified as a hate crime.

And if that was not draconian enough, in another Orwellian twist, the new laws will make it a crime, punishable by jail time, to simply ‘prepare or possess’ material likely to ‘incite hatred’. ‘Possession’ could mean nothing more than having an offensive video stored on your computer, or owning a controversial text.

Well, I have a copy of The Turner Diaries, the spectacularly awful book which inspired Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh. Does publicly admitting that make me liable for criminal prosecution?

Make no mistake: this is a spectacularly bad piece of legislation. It will have a devastating impact on free and robust discourse. Many of the provisions make other nations’ own ridiculous hate-speech laws look positively liberal by comparison.

But, in the wake of Thursday’s riots, the government is savvy and cynical enough to exploit the public revulsion at what happened. They know that they can get these new laws over the line, while arguing that anyone who opposes them must be a racist and a bigot. We have some dark days ahead of us.

Ian O’Doherty is a columnist for the Irish Independent.

Picture by: YouTube.

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Topics Free Speech Politics World

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