New Bill Corrodes Free Speech, Democratic Discourse and Cohesive Pluralism - Tóibín
“Aontú opposes all forms of discrimination and we oppose all incitement to violence. All forms of discrimination are wrong. Everyone who lives in this country, who is a citizen of this country must have equal rights. A republic is built on the foundation stone that all citizens are equal.
Words matter. They matter a lot. Words can cast light, educate, build up, get to the truth, hold people to account and inspire. Words are the framework of our thought process. Words are the vehicles of ideas, and we know that ideas can change the world for good and for bad. A liberal democracy is built upon allowing ideas to compete with each other so we can test, challenge and measure their value. Its only through this free and respectful competition of ideas that we can empirically choose the best solutions for the problems society face.
In a citizens’ republic, each individual, being equal, has the equal right to their views and to articulate their views as anyone else. In a civilised society we ask people to do this respectfully. We try to raise our children to question, challenge and test but to do it in a manner that reduces hurt.
On Social media hundreds of activists who dress up in the colours of love have threatened to beat, rape, assassinate and bomb people like JK Rowling. The fears ordinary citizens have about this Bill are not theoretical, the cancel and censorship culture is on steroids throughout society at the moment.
In history censorship has never ended well. Censorship is authoritarian. It deletes the liberty of the citizen. Its deletes the competition of ideas. It reduces the ability to challenge and to test the prevailing ideologies. It not only leads to the erasing of each citizens rights but it guarantees that the best solutions to societies challenges, will not be achieved. It means that society can radically and speedily swing in whatever direction the ideological wind is blowing in.
It used to be the case that censorship was a tool of the political right. It used to be the case the left fought censorship and demanded and supported a voice for each man and women in the country. That’s not the case now. Much of the far left have become distracted with the culture wars and identity politics while forgetting about the bread-and-butter issues of the people they are supposed to serve. Many not admit to using these tools engineer culture war outcomes.
Pluralism is also key component of a liberal democracy. We know that tolerance of plural outlooks in society is necessary for cohesion and for the competition of ideas. For pluralism it must be possible for mutually opposing ideologies to coexist simultaneously. The quote attributed to Voltaire “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it, is a foundation stone of tolerance and pluralism and therefor cohesion within a liberal democracy.
Helen McEntee’s version of that quote is “I may not agree with what you have to say and I will put you in jail for saying it”.
Words can defame, inflame, divide, destruct and rob a person or an organisation of their good name. Words can lead to violence and death. in the modern world with the use of traditional and social media and words are amplified like never before. Damage can literally go viral in a matter of minutes.
There has to be balance of rights. We need to allow a society where there is a freedom to articulate, to challenge to hold to account but also where reputations are not unfairly attacked. Opponents of this bill are not absolutists. Most ordinary people support the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, a law widely considered to have achieved the necessary balance of protecting free speech while outlawing incitement toward violence in society. But this Bill goes far further and significantly damages that balance.
One of the major defects with this Bill is the lack of clear definitions. The Irish Council of Civil Liberties itself has said that that the definitions of incitement to hatred and the protections of freedom of expression are no clear enough. The ICCL states that the creation of an offence for preparing or possessing materials with your views in your home with a view to making it public goes too far and infringes privacy rights.
They say that possessing material in your home without a clear intention to make public should not be an offence. It is incredible that Gardaí would have a right to search your homes on this basis.
Hatred, we are told by the Minister is the key reason for this bill. Yet its not defined anywhere in the Bill. I oppose hatred. I would say that calling for violence against people is hatred this should be illegal. But others would define hatred as saying that a woman is a female adult. This is not theoretical. In Britain police have arrived at homes of citizens under hate speech law, because they have tweeted that women are adult females.
A number of women spoke on the Joe Duffy show a few weeks ago and articulated their fear that allowing any man who identifies as a woman access to women’s toilets, changing rooms, prisons and safe spaces could facilitate men who are NOT transgender but are opportunist predators.
They calmly and respectfully articulated what the vast majority of Irish people believe, that women should have the right to safe spaces. Yet there was a backlash of massive proportions from that establishment bubble. Many called them transphobic and demanded that women such as these would not be given a platform again. Minister do you think these women would have broken your law? Could a judge in the future take this law to mean they did? And even if it doesn’t directly break the law, does it not create a chilling effect as people are forced to self-censor for fear of breaking the law.
Minister I mentioned that distraction of the political class in terms of their focus on the culture wars and inaction on the bread and butter issues that are affecting citizens. I found out that well over 2100 Gardaí have been physically assaulted over the last 10 years. Over 400 Gardaí have resigned from the force in the last 5 years. Only 24 Gardaí have started in Garda Training College for the whole of this year while hundreds are retiring from the force. Numbers in the Garda Reserve are collapsing and Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of police in the whole of the EU. Your own county of Meath has the lowest number of Gardaí in Ireland and there are districts in your own constituency where there was zero detection for certain crimes for the first half of this year. This is what you are actually responsible for Minister, the safety and protection of real citizens. If you gave these responsibilities half the attention and focus as you do the culture wars people would feel safer at night.
Minister I would urge you to rethink this bill. I like many others want a society where citizens engage respectfully, with empathy and with generosity with views or ideas that they disagree with. I believe that can be achieved culturally in society and by raising our children with respect. But this is a bill that takes away human rights. It reduces liberty and freedom for citizens to democratically express themselves. The so-called definitions in the Bill are so ill defined that they are wide open for misinterpretation and abuse. I and many others fear that it will inhibit the ability for honest democratic discourse and as a result weaken societies ability to grapple with real and significant challenges. Your Bill is a threat to the democratic function of our society”.