Merely possessing “hateful” material on your devices will be enough to face prison time in Ireland

Speaking during the  Final Stages of the Incitement to Hatred and Hate Crime Bill on Wednesday 26 April 2023 which was supported by Sinn Féin, Labour and the Soc Dems, Deputy Paul Murphy pointed out that possessing “hateful” material on your devices is enough to face prison time.

Not only that, the burden of proof is shifted to the accused, who is expected to prove they didn’t intend to use the material to “spread hate”.

He pointed out that under Section 10 of the bill “a person who has hateful ideas, writes hateful things to himself or herself or downloads hateful material or whatever can be criminalised as a consequence of that.” Furthermore, “As a part of that, section 10(3) states that where “it is reasonable to assume that the material was not intended for the personal use” the onus will be put onto the accused to prove their own innocence by showing the material that they prepared or even just material they possessed was never intended to be publicly communicated. Within section 10, we have the creation of thought crime and then a dangerous reversal of the burden of proof, where the burden is now placed on the accused to overturn the presumption that the material was not intended for personal use. This is extremely problematic. There is a real problem in terms of civil liberties with this section.”

Aontú, the Rural Independent Group,  PbP, Catherine Connolly, Michael Fitzmaurice and Michael McNamara voted against the bill which now goes to the Seanad for approval before it’s signed into law by the President.

In reply to a tweet from Free Speech Ireland following the vote which said “Today the government voted against Human Rights and quite literally for Thought Crime legislation”, Elon Musk tweeted in reply: “Massive attack on freedom of speech”.

During the Dáil debate on Wednesday, Paul Murphy said: “How can we hold people responsible for actions that they have not taken? That goes against the main thrust of our criminal law, which relates to actual crimes that take place, not bad thoughts that people have, that they write down…This is a serious enough infringement of civil liberties and the right of people to have wrong, bad ideas and their own private thoughts and to write them down and have them on a computer and for that not to be an offence in and of itself.”

Under a new draft code of practice laid before the UK Parliament last month, the police will only record non-crime hate incidents when it is absolutely necessary and proportionate and not simply because someone is offended.

The draft code follows concerns around police involvement in reports of ‘hate incidents’ which are trivial or irrational and do not amount to a criminal offence.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:

“I have been deeply concerned about reports of the police wrongly getting involved in lawful debate in this country.

We have been clear that in recording so called non-crime hate incidents, officers must always have freedom of expression at the forefront of their minds.

The new code will ensure the police are prioritising their efforts where it’s really needed and focusing on tackling serious crimes such as burglary, violent offences, rape and other sexual offences.”

The new code aims to better protect people’s fundamental right to freedom of expression as well as their personal data, while continuing to ensure vulnerable groups are appropriately safeguarded.