Sinn Féin Seanad group leader, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, has said the government is running out of time to get their Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 fit for purpose.
He said the government’s arrogance in refusing to engage with opposition amendments on the bill is threatening to undermine the good work of many organisations who have campaigned on this issue.
He added that the bill must strike the difficult balance between freedom of speech and inclusion, and that Sinn Féin’s support for a single statute on hate offences does not extend to supporting unsatisfactory or bad legislation.
Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile said:
“Sinn Féin fundamentally believes in the right to free speech and the right to peaceful protest. However, we recognise that this right should not be abused to incite hate, violence or hatred against vulnerable people.
“An ICCL study in 2018 commented on the lack of consideration of hate within the prosecution of crime. The government bill before the Oireachtas has been around for several years and the current Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Green Party coalition have stated their intention to enact this during this Dáil term.
“Sinn Féin has worked constructively at pre-legislative scrutiny, committee and report stage to try to make sure this legislation is fit for purpose and does not erode the right to free speech, right to protest or freedom of expression. Unfortunately, their arrogance continues to undermine the good work of many organisations who have campaigned on this issue.
“Opposition parties, including Sinn Féin, the Justice committee and others, have all voiced a number of major concerns about the bill as it stands.
“We, along with other parties, moved a number of key amendments related to the definition of hatred, possession of materials likely to incite hatred, the public order offences within the bill and the ‘demonstration test’.
“The government has failed to address these concerns, through accepting amendments or moving any of their own.
“The bill today passed Seanad second stage and Sinn Féin has put the government on notice that they are now quickly running out of time to get this important piece of legislation fit for purpose.
“We will be moving amendments at committee stage in the areas where we have concerns to try to ensure that the legislation is fit for purpose and strikes the correct balance between protecting vulnerable groups and persons alongside protecting these key rights.
“The bill must strike the difficult balance between freedom of speech and inclusion. The government must get this right, and our support for a single statute on hate offences does not extend to supporting unsatisfactory or bad legislation.”