A DEBATE on hate speech legislation has prompted a furious reaction from the Clare-based chairperson of The Irish Freedom Party.
Speaking in the Dáil, where the Justice Minister sought support for a measure to extend EU crimes to include hate crime and hate speech, Deputy Cathal Crowe was sharply critical of the party.
“It practises hate messaging and it is how it operates,” he said. “Its members message on topics of gender, transgender and immigration. They are the issues on which they campaign. It can be argued it is a political party with a right to represent and speak, but it does not have any elected mandate in this country.
“If its members believe they have a right to speech, they will have less of a right to make their statements when we sign up to this because any form of rallying people or inciting hatred in that regard will be illegal.”
In a statement following the debate, Michael Leahy called on Deputy Crowe to justify his comments.
“I challenge Mr Crowe to give a single example of any official statement of the Irish Freedom Party which in any way promotes hate or advocates undue discrimination against anyone,” he said.
He described the Dáil remarks as “an astonishing attack against a registered political party”.
Speaking to The Champion, Mr Leahy said that unofficial statements by members were beyond the control of the party. “We obviously can’t control every remark that every member of the party makes,” he said.
When asked if that situation necessitated social media controls, he said: “One has to be very careful about that control involves and who is exercising it. People should have a broad latitude.”
He added that he fully accepts the need to prevent incitement to hatred or violence.
He said his party had made a detailed submission to the Department of Justice on the proposed legislation. “There is a strong element of subjectivity being proposed if the fact that someone finds something offensive automatically makes it a crime,” he said. “It will have a terribly chilling effect on debate, not just on political parties but on journalism and public discourse generally.”
Mr Leahy, who was a General Election candidate in 2020, securing a total of 807 votes, said he believes existing legislation is sufficient on the issue. “We already have excellent legislation of some 30 years standing dealing with prohibition of incitement to hatred, but what is now proposed goes far beyond this and will effectively bring our democracy to an end,” he claimed.
Mr Leahy described the proposed legislation as “an astonishing level of destruction of our legal system based on justice and fair play”. He also called for a “full debate” on what is proposed.
After the debate, Minister Helen McEntee thanked deputies for their support.
“I reassure Deputies that I am in no way in favour of limiting free speech or expression,” she said. “It is a right we all have. In no way will this motion or the Bill I will soon introduce conflict with people’s constitutional right.”