Hate Speech and Hate Crime Law – December 6th 2023

Tuesday December 5th – 4pm 

Hate Speech and Hate Crime Law

Today the Irish Traveller Movement told Senators of the need to ensure speedy progress of the proposed “hate crime and incitement to hatred bill”, given the need to safeguard Travellers from extreme hate speech both in person and online.

Speaking at the briefing held in Leinster House, Bernard Joyce Director of the Irish Traveller Movement spoke of extreme anti Traveller racism and hate arising in every situation across Traveller’s daily lives, including in media and news sites earlier that day who had featured notice of the event taking place.

Giving examples of Travellers who had contested the last general and local elections, and research undertaken by the Irish Traveller Movement on their experiences , saying ‘Candidates  were required to have  ‘exceptional or abnormal resilience’ to defend themselves against hate, in person and online,  and threats of harm with one female being screamed at in public, verbally abused by two men, and consistent hateful commentary with words such as ‘scumbag’, ‘you’re just a pikey –, ‘scruffy knacker’, ‘you shouldn’t be in politics’.

Another candidate’s family were targeted in posts, including threatening the candidate’s wife and young child, and debasing name calling such as ‘uneducated knacker’ and that ‘Travellers at a local site should be ‘bombed out of it’. 

In carrying out political duties, a person spoke of a fatalistic likelihood of being physically assaulted, especially for taking positions on racism, integration and women’s issues.

According to the Irish Traveller Movement, there are concerns on the use of a motivation test in the Bill’s current framing, as a sufficient safeguard and that protection is needed for admissible evidence of demonstrating hostility arising from hostile language, gestures, threats, and communications. On November 23rd, during the Dublin far right fuelled riot social media provided a platform of racism and hate, one perpetrator sharing an audio call out inciting people as such; ‘tool up, and any F…… gypo or foreigners, kill them, just kill them’. 

It could be argued the content meets a legal threshold of increment, to hatred, violence and to kill. A matter now for the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Racist Traveller commentary is widespread, with children and young people subject to psychological and emotional harm, 65% of Travellers in Ireland said they had experienced identity-based discrimination, the second highest finding of 6 European countries researched. And (52%) had the third highest rate of hate-motivated harassment (such as offensive comments on the street or online.

Specific safeguarding in media regulatory frameworks is required, as online standards and complaints procedures are problematic, especially where ethnic identity is not understood by services’ moderators, and therefore raises questions as to how hate-based harms will be dealt with by platforms, unless Travellers are designated for specific protection by name. 

The Irish Traveller Movement have raised the matter with (Coimisiún na Meán) given the Online Code for video-sharing platform services are in development. How the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Act will interlink with these Codes, and with other legislations including ‘content regulation’, especially where these might impact on criminal proceedings in the digital space, needs to be clarified to close the gap on hate speech, while upholding principles of Freedom of Expression.

The historical evidence of in person hate, in discourse including online, is of such extent that there is no ambiguity of the thresholds of hate expressed which might contravene freedom of expression.

Another example cited was the case of a man accused of inciting hatred against Travellers on Facebook, a landmark prosecution under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989  the first in Ireland to address incitement to hatred online, taken by the Irish Traveller Movement La Centre.

The accused set up a Facebook Page entitled “Promote the Use of Knacker Babies for Bait” in 2009. Writing “Instead of using animals for shark bait, they could use knack babys [sic]. Also, as food at feeding time in the zoo. And for testing new drugs and viruses”. The accused sent the Page to three of his friends and eventually the Page had 644 Members.

Evidence from the accused at Killarney District Court 2011, was he set up the Page after a negative encounter with a group of Travellers who became aggressive after he refused to serve them after hours in the pub in which he worked. The judge indicated that this was an important element of the defence regarding intention to incite hatred, though the court pointed out that it had not been verified by Gardai. The case was dismissed and called into question the efficacy of criminal law in dealing with hate speech and the peculiarities of online hate speech, and the difficulty of proving ‘Motivation’ which the only test was, used as the basis of this first case taken in Ireland.  

For further information please contact Jacinta Brack at Jacinta@itmtrav.ie