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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 4

Proposal for a Council Decision on Hate Speech and Hate Crime: Motion

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating the motion. I also thank the House. Yesterday, the Government approved my request to seek the House's approval to opt-in to this EU Commission proposal. The proposal seeks to extend the list of EU crimes under Article 83 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU, to include hate crime and hate speech by way of Council decision.

Hate crime is so corrosive of the social solidarity and mutual understanding we need between groups in this increasingly-diverse island. The Government has no hesitation in commending to the House the motion that we opt in. Opting in under Article 3 will allow us to be involved in the detailed discussions of this measure and help us to shape the final text.

Article 83(1) of the TFEU lays down an exhaustive list of areas of EU crimes whereby the European Parliament and the Council may establish minimum rules concerning the definition of "criminal offences and sanctions" applicable in all member states. A number or areas or crime are currently listed. Trafficking in human beings, illicit drug trafficking and organised crime are three examples. Article 83 also provides that, based on developments in crime, the Council may adopt a decision identifying other areas of particularly serious crime that have a cross-border nature, resulting from the nature or impact of such offences, or from a special need to combat them on a common basis. This is what the Commission is seeking to do in particular with this proposal. To develop a common approach to hate crime and hate speech at EU level, adoption of a Council decision to extend the list would be a first step to creating the necessary legal basis.

Opting in to this proposal demonstrates our commitment to tackling hate crime and hate speech, crimes which go against the very foundations of a democratic and inclusive society. These crimes undermine the fundamental rights and values upon which the Union itself is founded, in particular human dignity and equality. They cause harm not only to the individual victims but also to wider communities and society at large. I know sometimes there can be a tendency among those of us who have never known what it is like to be the target of hate crime or hate speech to think that these issues are not serious or that they are rare. Sadly, they are not as rare as we would like. In terms of impact on the people who are targeted, the effects can be very serious for them and for their communities.

Hate crimes target people on the basis of their innate characteristics - parts of their nature they cannot change. Hate speech is designed to silence people with these characteristics by making them afraid to speak out and to show who they are, where they come from or whom they love. There is nothing free about making people hide, making them afraid to go where other people go, or shutting them out from the basic freedoms we should all be able to enjoy.

An Garda Síochána has reported at national level on hate-based motivation for crime incidents in previous annual reports. The Garda Commissioner has said to me that An Garda Síochána fully accepts there is under-recording of hate-motivated crimes. As such, actions are under way to improve internal recording of crimes motivated by hate and to encourage more reporting by the public. This will enable the reporting of hate crime-related incidents and more accurate collation of data in future.

At European level, unfortunately, hate speech and hate crime are widespread across the Union and have been increasing over recent years. In particular, the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the feelings of insecurity, isolation and fear. This has created an atmosphere in which hate speech has flourished while also being used to target already marginalised populations, also resulting in hate crime. Both crimes spread across national borders. Hate speech is easily reproduced and widely shared online through the Internet, including social media, and offline through television broadcasts, public events, written press and political speech. Hate crimes can be committed or facilitated by networks with members from several countries, who inspire, organise, or carry out physical attacks.

The 2008 Council framework decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law covers certain aspects of xenophobia and racism in respect of crime. Ireland gave notice of our compliance with this decision before the 2010 deadline for that instrument as it was in line with the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. There is a need to effectively address hate speech and hate crime on other grounds beyond those covered by framework decision. Hate speech and hate crime on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, age and disability have been identified in current EU strategies, namely the gender equality strategy, the LGBTIQ equality strategy and strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities. The current proposal from the Commission is designed to go further in terms of hate speech and hate crime as these, in its view, constitute serious matters within the scope of "particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension", which should, therefore, be included in the list under Article 83(1).

Opting in would also be in line with work under way to improve our domestic response through the criminal justice (hate crime) Bill 2021 and the online safety and media regulation Bill. As the House knows, Ireland does not currently have any specific legislation to deal with hate crime. The only legislation in Ireland that deals with hate-based offences is the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. Although incitement to hatred is an offence, it is difficult to prosecute and there have been very few convictions since its introduction. A hate motive is something that a judge can take into account as an aggravating factory, on a non-statutory basis, in sentencing for any crime.

The general scheme of the criminal justice (hate crime) Bill 2021 was published in April 2021. This new legislation, which will repeal the 1989 Act in its entirety, will create specific, hate-aggravated forms of existing offences that can be investigated, prosecuted and recorded as hate crimes. The Bill will also provide for new offences of incitement to hatred, which should prohibit deliberately or recklessly inciting hatred against a person or group of people due to their association with a protected characteristic, and displaying or distributing material inciting hatred. This will have relevance to online hate speech in particular. Following its publication, the general scheme was referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny. This took place in November and the report is awaited. The Bill has also been referred to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel for drafting. I intend to publish the new hate crime Bill in the summer, subject to the committee's report of its deliberations.

In terms of hate speech online, the hate crime Bill will be supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media's online safety and media regulation Bill, the general scheme of which was published in January. It addresses harmful content online as "material which is likely to have the effect of intimidating, threatening, humiliating or persecuting a person to which it pertains and which a reasonable person would conclude was the intention of its dissemination". The online safety and media regulation Bill will provide for the formation of a media commission, a component of which will be the online safety commissioner. The Bill will also provide for the preparation of online safety codes governing standards and practices to be observed by designated online services.

As the development of EU law in this area will have a direct impact on the amendment of our domestic law in this area, participation by the Department on the working groups, committees or other bodies at EU level that will formulate the proposed measures under Article 83 is essential to ensure Ireland's contributions to those proposals are provided from an early stage. It is also essential to ensure development of the forthcoming hate crime Bill is framed in light of developments at the EU level. We can take part at a later date but if we do not opt in in the first three months we cannot contribute to any change that may be necessary.

Members will have seen in the explanatory memorandum provided to the Library and Research Service by my Department that there is no expenditure associated with this proposal and that the Office of the Attorney General has advised that opting into the proposed decision does not, in itself, create any constitutional or legal issues for the State.

We have traditionally been very cautious about regulating hate speech. This is because any restrictions on speech are, of course, a very serious matter. I am committed to ensuring that the legislation we introduce domestically is completely in harmony with the very important right to freedom of expression we all enjoy. When we think of hate speech and our own freedoms, we should remember that there is nothing noble or free about hate speech. There are people who have been the victims of crime and attempts to sow hatred in our society. Any directives proposed as a result of the expansion of Article 83 to include hate crime and hate speech will need to be carefully examined in detail by my Department and the Attorney General, particularly if they raise questions with regard to freedom of expression. However, by opting in now, the State can be part of those detailed discussions in Brussels. We will have an opportunity to consider whether we should be included in any such new proposed directives that will follow because Protocol 21 will apply.

I reiterate that Ireland's involvement at the initial stages of the development of this proposal and other further legislative proposals brought forward by the commission under Article 83 is both prudent and necessary for us to be involved in detailed discussion on such measures. The French Presidency will take this proposal forward and we are eager to get a Council decision on this agreement within its term, which ends at the end of June. It is appropriate that we stand with the French Presidency as France is our nearest neighbour in the EU. We propose to support this proposal by opting in. I commend this motion to the House.

Is a copy of the Minister's speech available?

Copies were left outside.

I call Deputy Martin Kenny, who has two and a half minutes. There are four speakers listed for this Sinn Féin slot. Is Deputy Gould coming? Has he given the Deputies his slot? The Sinn Féin speakers have ten minutes between them.

We have ten minutes but I understood that we had 15. Anyway, I thank the Minister. We have no difficulty in supporting this proposal. In the context of world politics and what we are seeing across the world, the concept of hate crime and hate speech affects all of us. We need to be very conscious of it. I was reading up on some of the issues and came across the report, Legislating for Hate Speech and Hate Crime in Ireland, that was published in 2020. It states:

Hate crimes are signal crimes. They send a message to the victim, and to other people like them, that they are not safe, not wanted, or somehow not a real member of Irish society who is entitled to the same protections or the same freedoms as other people.

Victims of hate crime are made to feel afraid for the future, not just for themselves but for their friends, their loved ones and their children. This type of fear can lead to anger, and ultimately to a more divided society where whole communities can feel unsafe.

Those paragraphs at the beginning of the report are a very good synopsis of what we are trying to deal with here. As the Minister said, the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 goes some distance towards dealing with some of those issues but very little has happened as a result of that Act. I believe we all recognise that it is not strong enough. I agree with the Minister that we are all a little hesitant to act in this area, particularly when it comes to hate speech, because freedom of speech is paramount. People must be able to express their views and opinions on issues that are affecting their lives at any given time. However, it is not appropriate for people to insult, attack or intimidate others, and some people stretch the concept of freedom of speech to cover such actions. That is one of the core issues we have to deal with.

Of course, we also recognise that hate crime is generally an aggravating factor in another crime. It occurs when a person is being physically attacked or abused if it can be shown that the perpetrator is doing so with a racist motive or a motive related to the sexual orientation or gender of the person being attacked. I particularly think of issues related to violence against women. Can they be described as hate crimes in some of these situations? I believe they can be.

We need to try to deal with these issues. I welcome what is being done and I would welcome anything that went further in that regard. I acknowledge that the Minister is doing other work in this area. The big area where we all come into this is the online sphere and what the various platforms can do. We have to recognise that those behind the keyboards typing the words in are ultimately responsible for what goes up but the platforms that allow it to go up also have a responsibility to ensure that people are not defamed or attacked and that their integrity is not undermined. These issues have to be dealt with conclusively. I understand this legislation will go some way towards that. I hope that we can get into more of the detail as the legislation progresses. I will leave it at that because three other speakers are waiting.

This debate comes not too long after the Joint Committee on Justice's pre-legislative scrutiny of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021. At the time, the committee heard that the Bill is an attempt to consolidate all legislation related to crimes motivated by hate. I have listened to what the Minister has said as to how this might affect the Bill and what interaction between domestic and EU law will look like afterwards. Minimum standards regarding crime with cross-border implications makes sense as we are in an increasingly connected world and, as she said, an increasingly diverse society. In addition to Ireland being seen as a tax haven and carbon emissions haven for corporations, there is a risk that we might be perceived as being weak on hate speech on social media. I welcome what the Minister said with regard to the online safety commissioner. I look forward to seeing the minimum standards set out in the motion, which should combat such speech.

At the same time, we must be conscious of the context of speech. This must be advanced in tandem with equality and free speech. Sometimes, people who are fighting for material fairness, for example, with regard to the Palestinian cause, must be taken into account. I reject any notion that standing with oppressed peoples must constitute hate against others. We must be careful not to end up in a worse place as a society by introducing laws in a vacuum.

During the committee's meeting, I raised a number of surveys and statistics. I welcome what the Minister said about her conversation with An Garda Síochána with regard to internal recording. We need more comprehensive data, particularly with regard to sexual violence and other categories of crime. In dealing with the Traveller community, confidence in the justice system is vitally important. We must remember the experiences of the Irish community in England and what they had to deal with. Irish people did not have confidence in the justice system there. Our minority communities and Travellers are in a similar situation and they must have confidence in the justice system here. With regard to data, while I do not advocate following the UK's approach, it is streets ahead of us in respect of data and statistics and we should seek to match it. I look forward to a more in-depth examination of the upcoming Bill and the implications of this motion when the Bill goes to First Stage proper.

We have all watched the devastation and the scenes in Ukraine recently. Perhaps the most devastating of all of these images were those of families being ripped apart and of women and children and, in some cases, children on their own travelling across borders. I am very aware that thousands of these children and women will be coming to Ireland in the coming weeks. Some have already come. We have spoken about that. I am also very aware that the trauma these people have experienced, and will continue to experience, is unimaginable. These people will soon be on our streets, in our schools and in our shops. They will be anxious, waiting for news from home. Their families will be missing fathers and they will be missing friends and other relatives. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that there is no racism or discrimination in this State. We have seen on social media racism and vicious attacks from certain individuals who are determined to bring down this State. We need to make sure that our streets are safe for those coming from Ukraine, Syria, Yemen or Palestine, for refugees from other parts of the world who might come here in the future and for members of other marginalised groups such as the LGBTQI community, disabled people and members of the Traveller community. Ireland has a long history of oppression but we also have a long history of compassion. We cannot let that be overshadowed by the voices of a few who want to target and discriminate against people based on differences. Hate crime and hate speech have no place in our society. We are better than that.

Our society is very much lessened by the creeping incitement to hatred that has increased over recent years. While social media is often blamed, and rightly so because it speeds up the spreading of toxic hate speech, it is not the only cause. There are also often headlines in our supposedly reputable press that covertly, and sometimes overtly, incite hatred.

We must look across the board and we must hold people accountable. That is why I welcome this common legal framework to combat hate. As the Minister rightly said, hate speech is often used as a way of making people afraid after which it is easier to control them and their thinking.

Hate speech has no place inside or outside politics. Since coming to this House, I have seen things said in this Chamber that people really need to be held accountable for. During the Covid pandemic, it was used by extreme ideological movements to spread hatred on a range of grounds, including religion, sex and sexual orientation. When I talk about hate crime, I always remember Sophie Lancaster. Sophie Lancaster was a 20-year-old woman who was kicked to death for looking different. We did much work in the community in County Mayo with the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and with her mother Sylvia. We went into the schools to use the toolkit they had provided, which was the acronym for Sophie - stamp out prejudice, hatred and intolerance everywhere.

I welcome the domestic legislation that is to follow. We absolutely need to get it right. We also need to ensure it permeates down into our schools and wider communities. Hate speech has no place in our communities and no place in our country. People who spread it must be held accountable and this will allow us to do that. Attempts to dehumanise or spread fear and hate of those with opposing views or those who, somehow, we perceive as being different must stop throughout the island. We also need to call it out. Sometimes we choose to ignore it in certain quarters while we focus on it in other quarters. This is a very important step forward in a longer journey we will all make together to introduce legislation to stamp out hatred and intolerance everywhere.

The House is asked to support the adoption of an EU Council proposal to extend the list of EU crimes to all forms of hate crime and hate speech, whether based on race, religion, gender or sexuality. The European Parliament and EU Council can establish rules concerning the definition of "criminal offences and sanctions", as they are recommending. The framework decision requires member states to criminalise hate speech, that is, public incitement to violence or hatred on grounds of race, colour, religion, descent, or national or ethnic origin. It also requires member states to ensure for offences other than hate speech that such racist and xenophobic motivation is considered as an aggravating circumstance or alternatively that such motivation can be taken into account in determining the penalties.

Hate crimes and hate speech are very important matters for our times. We look forward to the legislation coming before the House so that we can deal with these in more detail. These matters go to the core of our humanity, the essence of being a person that all people can be in essence themselves without being abused, harassed or denigrated because of the race, religion, gender or sexuality that they are entitled to be. It goes to the core of the value systems of the European Union that in Europe all our people can be themselves, express themselves and rejoice in their own uniqueness without fear. That is the hope and we need to ensure that we can create as far as we can a framework to make that a reality.

This is, of course, a new situation. In my period in this House, we have seen Ireland transformed. The Ireland I grew up in was largely monocultural and mono-religious. It was enormously intolerant of difference. It was male-dominated, oppressive of same-sex love and, at best, suspicious of different races. Sometimes it was far more than suspicious and was downright hostile and violent. That has greatly changed. Through our own efforts we have largely transformed our society. However, we still have a long way to go to make that vision of a truly equal society a reality.

Europe also has other voices. We hear too often the increased drumbeat of the far-right nationalist voices. Those core values that we hold dear and that have been hard won and recently won are not guaranteed to last. Just as the unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia has jolted all of us from complacency on the issue of an enduring peace on our Continent, which we thought was a fixed reality, so too must we be ever-vigilant in the defence of the values of tolerance and willing to be heard on those who would divide us as a people and our continent on racial, religious, gender or sexual-orientation grounds.

We still marginalise certain ethnic groups in our own community, including Travellers. Although we have clear legislation and have walked a long distance towards having a truly inclusive society, much more remains to be done. There are still the snide comments as well as the bad and wrong use of language. All these things are part of our experience but there are things that go well beyond that into the realm of the wholly unacceptable and for those we need to be clear. The platforms available now for social discourse are new and the level of abuse out there must be regulated and dealt with. Coco's law was one step in doing that last year and I thank the Minister for her support in doing that but we need to go much further. I welcome the suggestion she has made in this debate.

We will support this motion and look forward to enactment of concrete legislation that will underpin it for the future.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak in support of this extremely important motion. I thank the Minister for bringing to the House following yesterday's Cabinet meeting. In combination with the hate crime Bill and that is due to be published this summer the Minister has clearly showed her leadership on an issue that is in that always been a nasty part of our society, as has been alluded to quite clearly by Deputy Howlin. However, it has taken an edge in recent years because while society has become more accessible it has allowed people to engage in the sort of hate speech at a level not previously seen.

The need for a common EU approach is obvious because the world is a much smaller place. We regularly see disinformation and misinformation campaigns with the level of hatred in one country exported to another member state. This has been quite pronounced in debates in recent years. These include the Brexit discussion, the rule-of-law crisis and the refugee-migration crisis. It has certainly been very stark and it would be remiss of me not to mention it. In recent weeks following the brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia we see that part of Vladimir Putin's regime of hybrid warfare is hate speech and the campaign of disinformation that is infecting all of our lives. It is infecting all our tablets and devices.

Yesterday when I was posting a tweet, as we all do, I went to use the hashtag, #IstandwithUkraine and the first suggested tag was #IstandwithPutin. I struggle to believe this is a popular hashtag in Ireland. Why is Twitter's algorithm pushing these messages? While we are passing this extremely important motion and there will be related legislation, there still remains the absolute abdication of responsibility by social media companies, in particular when it comes to regulating this area. Our traditional print media have very defined rules. Our National Union of Journalists abides by a very strict code. However, increasingly social media are becoming the Wild West of hate speech.

Anyone can say what they like. Not to make it personal, but officially I am ranked as the sixth most abused politician in the Dáil on Twitter. It is not a badge of honour, it is not particularly pleasant, and while we are all grown-ups who can deal with it, it is not very nice reading for my wife or my siblings, who perhaps do not get that the comments, which are largely sectarian, are aimed and do not always come from this State. When we see this particular disinformation campaign and see how it creeps into mainstream discussion and how people are saying it is because there is a Nazi regime in Ukraine and that sort of approach, it comes to the very importance of ensuring not only that we have a common EU approach but also, crucially, that this jurisdiction leads. We are proudly the European headquarters for so many of the digital companies, social media companies, tech companies and many of the other companies that enable such wonderful things from sharing holiday pictures to reconnecting with old friends to accessing real-time information. Crucially, however, they also provide a platform for hate speech that simply is incomparable to the graffiti or the snide remarks we would have seen a generation ago. They continue to go completely unregulated.

Deputy Howlin is absolutely correct that passing this motion is a welcome start. I hope to see it get unanimous support in this House, but it is just a start. It needs to be accompanied by real legislation. Even today, despite European sanctions against Russian media operations, despite the banning of RT, Sputnik and everyone else, there still are proactive accounts flooding Europe with disinformation about the war in Ukraine. That is hate speech, it is wrong and it is why this motion is so important, but equally, it is why the related legislation is so important.

I will start in that place. This motion is very important but the tapestry of legislation the Government is introducing in this area is also very important and very welcome, such as the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill, the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. These things are very important and show we are acting. This motion and the opt-in are very important because a lot of the hate speech, hate organisations and far-right organisations are organising on a European-wide level, so we need to work together at a European level to push back against them.

What we see on our streets here is an emboldened far right, organisations driven by racism and hate which are much more open and much more open in their activities and in the language they use. We have seen the assaulting of left-wing activists on the streets, calls for the lynching of Ministers based on who they are, calls for deportation, and protests arguing for the deportation of Irish people who do not fit narrow, often racially motivated, definitions of what it is to be Irish. We have seen arson attacks against Deputies who have stood up for people in direct provision. None of this is acceptable, yet it continues with this emboldened far right. We have seen an exploitation of Covid and the lockdown, using people's genuine fears and concerns and exploiting them to continue to build a far right hate organisation and organisations in this country. We have seen the Institute of Strategic Dialogue talking about the far right building layers of lies using Telegram and other platforms. The Irish Network Against Racism, INAR, has spoken about the Irish far right fake news industry adding to racism in this country. We therefore need to pass these bits of legislation. We need to opt into this in order that we can work together to push back against the growing, more aggressive and more organised far right hate organisations in this country that are actively on the streets and pushing their aggressive, racist, violent agenda.

Equally, while there are those who are trying to pull us apart and trying to pull society part, and these pieces of legislation are very important in stopping them doing that, there is a responsibility on all of us to ensure we are pulling people together more quickly than they can pull them apart. This legislation will help that because it will slow down the pulling part. However, in the communities, organisations, clubs and societies in which we are involved, we have a responsibility to ask whether we are being welcoming, reaching out and being inclusive. When I was still a scout leader, I was involved in a pilot project trying to reach out to young people in direct provision. It is things like that, where we are building the tapestry of a modern Ireland quicker than those who are hell bent on tearing it apart, even if that is by violence, and we do not let them tear us apart or turn us against one another. As I said, this needs to be a Europe-wide thing, so I am very glad the Minister is bringing this and the other Government legislation before us.

Hate speech and hate crime have become more prominent and divisive in the present era than any other time in history. For example, the American elections, the referendum on Brexit and the pandemic brought these manifestations to the fore. We witnessed misinformation, hate speech, hate crime, xenophobia, racism and conspiracy theories dangerously becoming the norm. Without doubt a need for robust legislation is required and copper-fastened definitions need to be put in place. We agree we need dissuasive criminal sanctions across Europe. However, we must also have a duty to make sure free speech and freedom of expression are equally balanced and protected, as provided by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights. We must also make sure regimes that exploit dignity and human rights are not given impunity through default.

I wish to ask the Minister - and I know there will be further opportunities to scrutinise this proposal - to verify here in the Dáil that no citizen's constitutional rights will be affected by the proposal to extend the list of EU crimes to hate speech and hate crimes. I am a member of the Oireachtas committee that conducted the pre-legislative scrutiny on the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. Through this work I have seen at first hand how complex these issues are to regulate. We have grappled with real-life examples from children's rights organisations on the harms of online harassment and bullying but, on the other hand, we have been warned of the danger to democracy that over-regulating speech can bring. The core of this issue is who gets to define "hate" and who gets to enforce punishment of same. We must have a broad and authentic input from all sides of this debate and consider all knowledgeable stakeholders as we do the work on this motion here on this island. We must also take into account that the digital age has revolutionised the way people are communicating across the world and we must make sure it is a tool used for good, not evil.

Hate speech and hate crime really have a ripple effect. The fear and anxiety caused by crimes resonate through communities and through generations. Targeting people on the basis of their identity sends a message to every other person in that community that they are not safe and they do not belong. It undermines the core values we strive for in society of equality, diversity and inclusion, and it undermines the fundamental right of everyone to be treated with dignity and respect.

I welcome the decision of the EU to begin the process of forming a common legal framework to combat hate speech and hate crime and welcome the Government's commitment to supporting it. However, any final agreement in the EU will be as a result of a consensus with countries such as Poland and Hungary, whose governments have relentlessly pursued minority groups such as the LGBT community over recent years. Our domestic legislation can be stronger and can go further. I know the Minister has drafted the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill which is at pre-legislative scrutiny stage. I hope it will be prioritised in the Government's coming legislative programme once the programme has been completed.

We are one of the few western democracies that does not have any legislation that targets the hate element of crime. Introducing strong legislation on hate crime and hate speech, in consultation with minority groups, will be a public statement by this country that we do not tolerate that kind of behaviour. It would send a message that there are serious consequences for anyone who attacks or terrorises individuals and communities for who they are. We all know there are many things that happen that are categorised as antisocial behaviour but which are much more than antisocial behaviour. These kinds of crimes very often fall into that category.

The absence of hate crime legislation in Ireland has not sent a good message. Hate crime has an horrific impact on victims. Direct impacts range from physical injury to lasting emotional and psychological harm. Victims of hate crime are twice as likely to suffer anxiety, depression, a loss of confidence and feelings of vulnerability in comparison with other victims of crime.

That is because hate crime is not random but is purposeful and directed at someone's identity. The perpetrators want the victim to be scared, to feel the other and to feel less themselves. One account in the Irish Council for Civil Liberties report, Life Cycle of a Hate Crime, demonstrates how damaging an effect these crimes can have. It states:

I was working with a mother last year whose son was abused by [a] neighbour physically, verbally, they suffered property damage – spray paint on the house. The child tried to kill himself twice. He poured detergent over his skin because he thought it would make him white.

We cannot properly combat discrimination of any kind unless we know the basic facts of where it is happening and how prevalent it is. We do not have any official data on the prevalence of hate crime in Ireland. The Garda records discriminatory motives for crime on the PULSE system but these data are not publicly released and we have no idea how accurate they are. The data we have show some worrying trends. The Irish Network Against Racism has collected reports of racist incidents for years on iReport.ie. The latest report in 2020 found 159 criminal incidents, a record 51 racist assaults and a record 334 hate speech incidents. There were a total of 700 incidents, up from 530 in 2019. I suspect that is a significant understatement of the problem.

Over recent years during Covid, forces have aligned and some of the things we are concerned about have been heightened. Undoing that will be a question of understanding the prevalence. For people to appreciate they are participating in a crime will be important in making a public statement. We support this initiative and hope the legislation will come through pre-legislative scrutiny quickly so we have something tangible on the Statute Book.

I welcome this initiative to include hate speech and hate crime in the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union. I fully support Ireland's approval of the initiative to extend the list of EU crimes. In Ireland, hate crimes are on the rise. Hate crimes and related incidents increased by more than 80% in the first six months of 2021, according to Garda figures. On a positive note, this increase may be due in part to people feeling more encouraged to report crimes of this nature because we are improving our recognition of hate speech and hate crimes and learning to stand up to them and call them out when we see them. That is welcome but it still points firmly to a growing prevalence of hate crimes and hate speech in Ireland. Sadly, this phenomenon is not unique to our country. There is a similar trend around the world and across Europe, with hate speech and hate crime becoming a worryingly staple behaviour in the real world and the virtual online world.

I know the Minister is working on furthering the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill, which would give us increased powers to deal with perpetrators of crimes motivated by prejudice, whether that prejudice relates to race, colour, nationality, religion, sexuality or other protected characteristics. That is welcome but at an EU level there is no legal basis to criminalise hate speech and hate crime. I was shocked by that. I did not realise it and was surprised to learn it given how prevalent these crimes are. In recent weeks, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has re-emphasised to many of us the importance of our connection to Europe and the EU and the importance of being able to take part in a unified response to a crisis or threat. Creating an EU basis for criminalising these offences allows us collectively to recognise the threat that hate speech and hate crime pose. They are a threat to safety and decency, to our right to be different and celebrate unique identities, and to our democracy, a pillar which we recognise, now more than ever, is imperative to our peaceful existence.

Online hate speech is probably the crime that unites us most at EU level, given how fast hate speech on social media can spread and how quickly it can be accessible to everybody, providing multiple opportunities for people to weigh in with hate-filled comments. In many cases, the veil of social media gives users a kind of virtual Dutch courage to share and spread hate speech that they probably would not do in the real world. In other cases, it can be the jumping-off point for bigots, racists, misogynists and people who will become extremists, egged on by an echo chamber of people who share in hate. We desperately need a united EU approach that recognises online hate speech as dangerous and criminal. Most importantly, users need to understand that engaging in hate crimes online is no different from perpetrating them in real life. Both should be treated with the same severity.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on hate speech and hate crime. One of the reasons I welcome it is there is a certain amount of confusion and uncertainty among the public as to what is meant by hate speech legislation or hate crime legislation. There would be benefit in the Oireachtas enunciating to the public what is meant by that. On one level are people who are fearful of hate crime legislation because they think it will criminalise their thoughts or what they say privately. It will not. On another are people who think there will be no protection for minorities unless hate speech and hate crime legislation is enacted rapidly.

I welcome the proposal that hate crime and hate speech be included in Article 83 of the treaty so directives could be promulgated and issued in respect of those offences. Criminal justice is generally a competence of the member state, but there are certain types of criminal activity the European Union and the members states have, through ratification of the treaties, agreed could also be dealt with at a European Union level. For instance, money laundering or illegal trafficking of humans is dealt with on a European Union level. Part of the reason for that is because it involves pan-jurisdictional offences and it makes sense to have a Europe-wide legislation and directive to deal with it.

We need to have two principles at the forefront of our mind when we talk about hate speech and hate crime. One is that we know from experience and history that groups can be targeted and subjected to extraordinary violence and criminal activity as a result of incitement to hatred against them. We saw that in Europe in the 1930s with what happened to the Jewish population. Second, we need to take into account that freedom of expression is important. People need to be reassured this legislation will not criminalise their thoughts or that they will not be able to express their hatreds. Many people in this country hate politicians, though Members of this House may find that extraordinary. After the legislation is enacted, they will still be entitled to hate politicians. Some people hate lawyers or bankers, and legislation in respect of hate speech or hate crime will not affect that.

We need to send out a message as to what is hate speech. Hate speech legislation is legislation introduced to prohibit the public incitement to violence or hatred on grounds of race, colour, religion, provenance or national or ethnic origin. We have had it on the Statute Book since 1989 in the form of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act. There are not many prosecutions under it but it exists. The important point about it is it is only triggered when somebody advocates for hatred or violence against a particular group of people. We have very few examples of that in Ireland, and when this legislation is enacted, there will not be many prosecutions in respect of it because people are measured and balanced in their public commentary. We would have to go back to the previous century to find examples of people who strenuously advocated incitement to violence or hatred against certain groups in this country based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.

Then you come to ask "What is hate crime?"

What is proposed when it comes to hate crime is that there will be an aggravated element to a sentence if a person is convicted of a criminal offence because he or she targeted an individual due to that person's race, religion or identity. If somebody, for example, assaults an individual, and does so on racist or xenophobic grounds, it will be possible for a court when sentencing the perpetrator to take into account as an aggravating factor that the motivation in committing the offence was based on targeting the victim for xenophobic and-or racist reasons. We must be careful and clear about what is meant by hate speech and hate crime. This is not going to change the world or be the panacea for all our ills, but it is something that is beneficial, is there at present and must be clarified in more detail.

According to the UN, there has been an alarming spike in online and offline speech in recent years. In examining the reasons for this, the UN has said that this rise can be linked to changes in the social, economic and technological environment and to Covid-19 and Internet use. For the European Commission, only the identification of hate speech and hate crime as a new and distinct area of crime can enable an effective and comprehensive criminal law approach to these phenomena at EU level. That is because there is now no legal basis to criminalise hate speech and hate crime as an EU standard. It is unfortunate that we find ourselves at this stage, but it is important that we legislate to protect people, demographic groups and minorities from this type of abuse. If we do not, then we will fail not just the people concerned, who, of course, are our primary concern, but also every strand of our society, as it would weaken the basis on which we can count on a democratic society to embrace tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.

Let us take online hate speech for a moment, because it is often accompanied by other issues that seek to marginalise people. This is because where online hate speech is present, other manufactured reasons for discrimination against one group or another are likely to accompany it. Hate speech online is often accompanied by misinformation, something that is presenting itself to us now as even more of an issue when those responsible for perpetrating the Russian invasion of Ukraine have tried to get people behind them by falsifying the truth and making extreme claims, which is what we have seen. As the European Commission put it:

Online hate speech spreads fast and is accessible to everybody anywhere. The ideologies behind hate speech and hate crime can be developed internationally and can be rapidly shared online. Hate crimes can be committed by networks with members from several countries.

While it is welcome that we are seeking to have an EU-wide legal basis to criminalise hate speech and hate crime, it cannot be done in isolation. Social media platforms must do far more to protect their users. We cannot allow them to shirk their responsibilities here any longer. Some action has been taken to monitor false information about Covid-19, but there are still many gaps in this and many other areas, including hate speech and bullying. In a study linked with the European Commission’s proposal, researchers found that 52% of young women and girls have experienced online violence, including threats and sexual harassment, while people with disabilities were more at risk of being victims of violent crimes, including hate crimes, than other people and they also face harassment.

They are important for ensuring we can reinforce protections for all EU citizens by addressing this deficit in EU law. We must also look to the future. We have seen the start of a refugee crisis the likes of which has not been seen in Europe since the Second World War. Every country in the EU will play its part, but a challenge will present itself when voices that may be critical of the approach of one or all states to offering refuge becomes transformed into a vehicle for hate through words or actions or both. This is definitely something that all member states must be ready to address quickly as the EU enters a new era in which it must adapt to some very pressing issues.

I will raise two specific points, but before I get to them I will make some general remarks. Hate speech, racist speech and the kind of hatred spewed by those on the far right, which must be combated and fought and the best way to do that is by building a mass anti-racist and anti-fascist movement, is connected to the hate policies and state racism of the EU and the Irish Government. They are not two unrelated things. It is not the case that the EU can hypocritically say that it is against hate speech, and so on, over here, but over there treat migrants the way they are treated. I refer to turning the Mediterranean Sea into a graveyard of refugees because of the pursuit of Fortress Europe. Those are related things. They are even politically related because one legitimises the other. Let us consider what is happening now in the French presidential election campaign. The candidate of the supposed centre-right is chasing Le Pen and Zemmour in the race to be the most Islamophobic and anti-migrant, which, in turn, legitimises their discourse and allows them to go further to the right. I refer as well to the scenes we have seen in recent days in the Spanish enclave of Melilla, where a couple of thousand desperate refugees made it over the guard wire only to be mercilessly beaten by the Spanish police. Let us look at the Irish State's racist policies of direct provision, DP, and how people are treated in what are basically open prisons. There is a relationship between the two and it is utterly hypocritical not to see this.

Turning to the two specific points I wish to address, the first concerns an email we received from members of the Russian-speaking community here, which raises concerning points about the racism they are facing. The email made the point that the community is made up of all nationalities, including Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Armenians, Georgians and children of Russian-speaking parents. In the context of Putin's horrific invasion of Ukraine, the email states that these people's children have faced verbal and physical abuse from other pupils, that there has been verbal and physical abuse of members of the Russian-speaking community in workplaces and in public places and that a member of the Orthodox Church in Ireland had received threats and was verbally abused. It is vital that a message goes out that any sort of racism or discrimination directed against Russian-speaking or ethnically-Russian people here is to be condemned. It is, potentially, an unfortunate by-product of treating the Russian people collectively as being in some way responsible for Putin's crimes. The effect of having sanctions aimed at the people, as opposed to simply at the oligarchs, can be to legitimise that kind of behaviour, and a strong statement must be made in that regard.

My second and last point is a worrying one, about which new evidence has just emerged. I have repeatedly raised the issue of the racist discrimination concerning refugees fleeing from Ukraine. There definitely seems to be discrimination based on skin colour and on passports. This has previously been dismissed as a Russian disinformation campaign, despite it having been reported by CNN, Time, Vox and many other outlets. Credible stories have been reported of black people being separated into different queues and of being forced to wait much longer by elements of the Ukrainian military and by Polish border guards. I saw one story about people being forced to wait four days at the border and not being given anything to eat.

Unfortunately, the evidence that this is taking place is much stronger again today based on what Ukraine's envoy to the UK, ambassador Prystaiko, told a select committee at Westminster. What he said was extremely concerning:

Problems arise when young foreigners are prioritised over women and children of Ukrainian citizenship who are trying to get on the same trains. Maybe we will put all foreigners in some other place so they won’t be visible and there won’t be conflict with Ukrainians trying to flee in the same direction. This is something that has to be taken care of and we will be doing it.

It is vital that a strong statement comes from the Irish Government and the EU to say that all refugees are welcome, regardless of their skin colour and passport and that there should be no discrimination by the Ukrainian authorities, Polish border guards or any other EU border guards.

I fully support the motion for Ireland to opt-in to the EU measure on extending EU crimes under Article 83 to include hate crime and hate speech. When I was a primary school teacher, kids would come in from the yard and an elbow, punch or trip would have hurt them, but words hurt them far more. It should come as no surprise to us as adults that hate speech and all that it encompasses is equally as hurtful. It has taken us a long time to do this and there have been many iterations of legislation that has tried to deal with this issue, but it is right that in 2022 this is being dealt with at EU level.

Any utterances that diminish one's equality, standing and self-respect on the grounds of race, colour, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religion are disgusting, immoral and, very soon, will be in the realm of crime. Too many people have hidden behind veils of anonymity when it comes to hate speech.

I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, and in the schoolyard of an all-boys' school, the homophobic slagging was very much a staple diet. Many people here could relate to that. Those words were brushed off by many of us, but for some they were words that hurt and lingered for many years afterwards. It is good this Irish State has atoned for much of that awful stuff that went on in schoolyards over the years, with the marriage equality referendum being one of those acts of atonement. Now children are growing up knowing that another boy or girl in their school can have two dads or two moms. It is acceptable and something they grow up with. Books in school libraries now reflect the family make-up we have in Ireland, and all that is progressive and normalised.

There is a murky underbelly on social media and every one of us uses such media. It is a way for us to engage. The mainstream media are not present in the Chamber but they may be following the debate on the monitors, and much of what we do now as public representatives plays out on social media. Such media can be a murky place with many individuals and people who are politically affiliated throwing punches and who are practitioners of hate speech. I have checked some of the people posting on my comments. I posted the other day about very local issues and had an audience from Carrickmacross, Newry, Derry and Dundalk weighing in on it, despite it having no relevance to them. Some people have questioned if the Abú system is working but it is working very well. It is time to call some of it off.

I want to speak to the targeting of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. It is absolutely disgusting that Russian President Putin has time and again thrown out terms like "Jew" and "neo-Nazi" as a way of discrediting a European democratically elected government. Our Taoiseach and Cabinet should show our full alliance with Ukraine when engaging with European counterparts, as we do today with the lighting of the building and all the actions taking place in and outside the building. It is very important those hate words that are being used as a tool and weapon of language are knocked on the head.

There is a political party that does not yet have a seat in this Chamber, the Irish Freedom Party. It practises hate messaging and it is how it operates. 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.

I fully support the move here and this refinement of EU law is very welcome. This is a transnational crime, and particularly with Europe in a time of war, it is really important we are sensitive to the way in which difference, vulnerabilities and hostilities can be blown out of all proportion. That said, the criminal bar is very high and we must often look elsewhere for the drivers of what eventually emerges as hate speech and appalling hate crimes.

Not unlike the discussion we have had recently on gender-based violence, where we find a very low level of reporting of such crimes and low detection rates, this is an area where people are feeling extremely intimidated in reporting. There is a wider responsibility for society, including in politics, as Deputy Crowe mentioned, to identify the smaller ways in which a tolerance for caricatures of opponents are created that are deliberately designed to discredit. Such action has been magnified by social media and it seems the apparent remoteness or anonymity of social media has created an extraordinarily feral environment where people seem to think they can say anything. They sink into their own little capsules and only listen to the views of those who are like them.

We who are in politics have a particular responsibility to try to restore some sort of a common forum with common standards being applied. I was proud to be part of the development of the online safety commissioner. We developed that concept and we must steer a course between the right of freedom of expression on the one hand and the right to respect people and protect their privacy on the other. The approach being taken in that respect is very important and we must see it go beyond the fairly narrow criteria that were being thought of in the context of that Bill, which considered things that would be unsafe.

We must see the development of codes of practice within social media platforms that observe more standards than they have been used to in the past. It is correct there should be flexible codes so that an online commissioner would not have to try to set out inflexible rules in primary legislation. Instead, we should be able to give some discretion to an online commissioner to be able to identify the trends emerging and cut them off at their source. The anonymity of some of those who put up this material must be challenged as well. I am not sure it is acceptable that we have the creation of capsules of hate with anonymous people fuelling that hate.

There is real scope to go beyond the criminalisation of the very extreme cases and look within our society to see how we might correct other features that are the early starts to the sort of appalling abuse that can emerge. I wish the Minister well but the House will need to return to this subject to try to ensure standards across a range of communications can be upheld.

I agree with much of what has been said and we need a legal framework to deal with the idea of hate crime and hate speech. We support this motion and there is a need for a significant amount of due diligence to be done so we can get a system that is fit for purpose. We all agree there are major issues when it comes to hate crime and hate speech and we see them far too often in society. Unfortunately, the online world provides a large forum for this too.

We are talking about online safety and we need to do some real work in bringing technology companies to book. We have heard what Ms Frances Haugen said about Facebook, how its algorithms work and the idea that they basically feed from, enable or facilitate that type of aggressive hate, with people finding themselves in a rabbit hole where they follow views of a similar ilk. That will happen to a point where they will lose all sense of reality and go down the rabbit hole. If that is a rabbit hole of absolute hate and bile, it is not a good place and it is not good for what people might do in society. We have specific work to do there.

We must look at the context in which we find ourselves following the absolutely criminal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. We are dealing with a huge humanitarian crisis and, in fairness, this State is stepping up to the mark, along with a huge number of Irish people. We have all been contacted by people looking to help, where they can, those fleeing war, murder, war criminality and all that goes with it. Russia must be absolutely called out on that. Again, we must ensure these people come to an Ireland that is welcoming and open. We must not leave any room or space for a level of insidious racism, which we all come across from time to time through inference. People might say something would be different if they were of a different colour or persuasion, for example. I am constantly looking that special section of the local authority that looks after people who come from certain parts of the world in a faster way, because I would like to use it myself for constituents. However, I do not think I will find it.

Unfortunately we have to close that stuff down where it exists.

The major players in this are the social media companies. Beyond that, if we are talking in this general sphere, we are the tech hub of Europe. We are a major base for social media and IT companies across the world. Given the circumstances we are in, we also need to make sure we are doing due diligence as we are open to cyber and hybrid attacks. It has never been more dangerous than now. That is also a piece of work that needs to be done. There is no room for hate speech or hate crime and we need to ensure we have all the tools necessary to shut them out of our society.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate which is timely and appropriate. I am happy to support the addition of hate speech and hate crimes to the EU list of crimes that are indictable. As Deputies we all appreciate the importance of freedom of speech. While we should be allowed freedom of expression inside this Chamber and beyond, the majority of us appreciate also that there are limits to that. Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. There is a threshold beyond which we should not stray. Reassuringly, that threshold or bar is quite high, as Deputy Bruton pointed out. It allows us the opportunity to have very robust debate and discussion, which is essential. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis are central tenets of a democratic society. When we come into the Chamber we should always be mindful that we are here to trade ideas rather than insults.

I am reassured by the advice of the Attorney General that if we decide to opt in to this proposal, it does not cause us any constitutional problems at the moment. If any directives ensue out of this proposal there will be an opportunity to go into granular detail and decide to opt in or out thereafter.

Apart from any directives, legislation or regulations, as public representatives we should be leading by example in social media and discourse. We all know Deputies and colleagues who are quite active on social media at night and then the following morning they are on local radio complaining about cyber-bullying and how it is affecting our teenagers, causing self-harm, suicides and so on. It is very important that we lead by example.

Deputies from Government and Opposition benches were keen to point out the dangers of social media. I love social media. It is a wonderful tool provided it is used properly. It is important that it stays social rather than becoming antisocial or unsocial media. A lot of people have weaponised social media and used it to radicalise and polarise society. When I look at what is happening in the UK and the US, I hope the same situation does not occur in Ireland.

I have been fortunate to work in a number of different workplaces before coming to Leinster House. There does not seem to be any voluntary code of conduct for the use of social media by employees in Leinster House including Deputies. Perhaps that is something we could look at through the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform or the Business Committee. Maybe the Whips could come together and come up with a one or two-page document setting out the standards by which we should conduct ourselves inside the Chamber and on social media. I will leave it with the Ceann Comhairle. I do not think one exists. We should recognise that many teenagers and people in general are looking at how we conduct ourselves both verbally and on social media. They are taking the beat from us and behaving accordingly. I am happy to support the proposal. It is appropriate, sensible, proportionate and reasonable.

I thank the Minister for the opportunity to discuss this important motion. In recent years we as a society have become more aware of the corrosive and insidious problem of hate crime and hate speech. The advent of social media has connected the world in ways that until recently were beyond imagination. Unfortunately this is not the first war to be seen on social media but it certainly feels like it. I think it was in its infancy on the last occasion there was a significant dispute around the world.

The Internet and social media have brought many positives to the world and our own lives and communities. However, we can be blind to the serious issues that have been created in the process. The anonymity of social media and the Internet in general not only allows for a plethora of serious crimes to be committed but also for highly personalised attacks on public and private people. There is no Member of the Oireachtas who will have escaped the direct abuse and threats that have been given a refuge on social media. This is also happening to private citizens and whole communities, however, with frightening regularity. It may be because of ethnicity, creed, sexual orientation or indeed any reason at all. The inclusion of hate crimes and hate speech under article 83 is a positive step to rooting out this behaviour and ensuring that these crimes will not go unpunished.

It is fitting in the week marking International Women's Day that we highlight that the Minister has been working on specific measures to expand protections under the hate crime legislation. I understand it is the intention of the Minister to publish the Bill before Easter and to target stalking and non-fatal strangulation, making them criminal offences. Furthermore a new hate crime Bill due this summer will target defined incidents resulting from certain characterisations including gender, which will mean that those types of crimes can be prosecuted as hate crimes where they are motivated by misogyny. I also believe we can sharpen our ability to detect, collect and act upon data with specific regard to hate crimes and similar offences. I speak in particular about the recording of racially motivated attacks and how these incidents are conveyed between the institutions of the State.

I note that in her state of the Union address, President Von der Leyen highlighted with particular emphasis the expansion of the list of hate crimes and hate speech with regard to definitions and repercussions. Ultimately we must strive in this House and right across the European Union to make progress to achieve a warmer and more inclusive and equal society across Europe. Unfortunately, we have seen in the past two weeks how years of progress and advancement can be rolled back and that we can find ourselves facing challenges we thought we had consigned to history. We are reminded in such a time that progress is never guaranteed. We must continually strive to tackle misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and more. The work will never be fully completed but by expanding our legislation to support moral and ethical progress we can begin to turn the tide in this effort.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, in appealing to the better angels of our nature, this message given to the world during a conflict driven by racism reminds us that hatred of the "Other" is a problem we have faced for millennia. I commend the Minister and the work she is doing to protect those who find themselves the victims of hate crime or hate speech and to defend the rights of all people who call Ireland their home, be they citizens or not, be they here for the long term or the short term. If we allow the fabric of our society to be pulled, we cannot ensure the long-term stability of any community or group in Ireland will prevail.

I ask that we continue to engage with minorities and our communities, to listen to their lived experience and understanding of the Ireland they see. By doing so we can build a stronger and safer Ireland for everybody who is here now and who will follow in their footsteps. I echo the comments of the previous speaker who said Members of the Oireachtas must lead by example. How very true. I encourage all Members to take note of it.

The Commission published notable research after President Von der Leyen's speech in December about the scale of the worrying trend of hate speech and hate crime, in particular the level of hatred manifested against, for example, the Roma community, Jews, Muslims, persons of Asian origin or those perceived to be of that origin, and the effect that had in terms of linked crimes in the communities. At EU level there has always been a strong statement against public incitement to hatred and hate speech, which comes from the very difficult background in Europe of post-Second World War efforts to solidify peace and stand against hate speech as it then was and as it has evolved. There is a real concern about how social media amplifies hate speech in considerable ways.

The use of the algorithm to amplify and excite through conflict is negative in itself and negative for users and society generally. It has a huge impact on democracy.

There have been important contributions about social media abuse of politicians, but the problem goes beyond that. It speaks to standards in democracy and the quality of the information people are getting. More and more over the past 20 years, we have seen in action the idea of taking a measure of dissent or concerns about a local problem generally and amplifying them into a criticism of the establishment, the way things are and the elites who are responsible. We have seen how that has been weaponised, not just politically but by states and other entities that would like to see the value of democracy, particularly western and European democracy, eroded over time. We have seen the amplification of local dissent into something much bigger throughout the Brexit referendum, for example, and during United States elections, particularly in 2016. This is a cause for serious concern and we must look at how we contribute to that ourselves.

There are two things going on in this regard. First is how we treat each other on social media and generally. The important work the Minister is doing in bringing in hate crime legislation will have a big effect on gender-based violence and on people with disabilities, where those characteristics are an aggravating factor in offences committed against people. Second, crucially, the EU must think about how it is going to stand against this weaponisation of information and the amplification of dissent, including by political parties, particularly populist parties that refuse to explain how difficult life is, how difficult financing things is and the constraints placed by constitutions, rules-based orders and finances on how decisions are made by governments on behalf of peoples, as though such matters were straightforward in business or even in running a household. It is important to deal with that level and to manage and control populism and expectations about what can be delivered for citizens. Some of the threats to democracy come from nefarious actors, whether organised criminal gangs or rogue states. All of these things are linked and how we manage social media amplification of dissent is very important, never more so than at this time, when there is not only a land-based war but an information-based war going on right across Europe and, as we have seen, right across western democracy for the past ten years.

There has been a sharp rise in hate speech and hate crime across Europe and Ireland is no different in this regard. It has become a particularly worrying and serious phenomenon both online and offline. Hate crimes are existing crimes motivated by hatred against people because of their actual or perceived membership of a particular group. They are message crimes intended to frighten, intimidate and silence entire communities. Hatred comes in all shapes and sizes across the world, even in our own country. We see the sad situation in Ukraine at the moment where a Russian leader who must be full of hatred and the politicians who surround him continue to show such hatred and inflict such pain on innocent men, women and children. I do not include the Russian people in that comment. It is the Russian leader at whom I am pointing the finger. Most Russians are good people and we should not forget that as this terrible affliction is being imposed on Ukraine.

In our country, many young people have been hurt on social media. It may be beyond the scope of these provisions but it is very worrying and there have been many reports of young people dying by suicide as a result. I hope that, in some way or another, we can see a means of giving some protection to young people in this regard.

As I said, hatred comes in all shapes and sizes. There is frustration among people with the Government to do with the fuel crisis. Such frustration leads to anger, and anger leads to hatred. The Minister and her colleagues need to step back and understand the pain people are feeling at present.

It is ironic that we are discussing this issue at a time when the incidence of hate speech and crime has seen a sharp increase across Europe and has become particularly serious and worrying, both offline and online. That is before even starting to talk about what is happening in Ukraine. The common EU action is needed to tackle this EU-wide challenge. However, there is currently no legal basis for criminalising hate speech and hate crimes at EU level. The existing list of crimes in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union needs to be extended to ensure there are minimum common rules on how to define criminal offences and sanctions applicable in all member states.

It would be wrong not to speak about how we all were both glad and sad this morning that the Ukrainian ambassador had to come here. We were all very welcoming of her and it gave us an opportunity to hear at first hand what is happening and explain how upset we all are. What can we call what is happening if not a hate crime? It is the result of one individual's hatred and desire to take over and invade a peaceful people. It is beyond belief. Most of us never thought we would live to see something like this happening in our time. We must stand united and help in every way we can, whether by finding accommodation for people coming to this country or ensuring there is funding to provide them with an acceptable lifestyle and access to education when they are living here.

I am glad to have an opportunity to say a few words on this issue. Hate speech and hate crimes do not come in any one shape or form. They happen across all sectors of society. A case was presented to me recently concerning members of official bodies in Ireland and some of the texts and other abuse that is happening. I have spoken before to the Minister about the abuse prison officers receive. The Prison Officers Association has talked about this but neither the Minister nor any of the superior people here seem to be doing anything about it. Whistleblowers are being ignored. That leads to frustration for people. It is the same when we come into this House and cannot get proper answers on issues. People get very frustrated, especially with the current crisis.

I compliment An Seanadóir Keogan from the bottom of my heart on the exceptional job she did this morning. I thank all the Members, the Minister who was there and everybody involved. Getting more than 30 ambassadors into the room was a statement in itself. I was glad to meet with the Ukrainian ambassador.

There are many Russian families in Ireland. In my county, there are many Russian children who were adopted by Irish families. They are lovely young people doing their best. We cannot tar all Russian people with the one brush. Their President is power hungry and it is savage what is going on but we cannot allow RTÉ to set the narrative on this. We did that with the Covid crisis and that is why people get so frustrated online. There was tunnel vision and no other view from anybody else was tolerated. This is a dangerous road to be on and we must keep that in mind in regard to the war in Ukraine. It is a very dangerous place to go.

I thank the Minister for providing a copy of her speech. I am not sure what the colour of the paper, which is unusual, represents. It is handy to have a copy because it sets out the background to the proposal. We are having this debate because the approval of the Dáil is needed under Article 29.4.7° of the Constitution in regard to extending the list under the article. I agree that we should extend it to include hate speech and crimes. I have no difficulty with that whatsoever and the proposal will be coming back before us again.

The Commission report sets out clearly why this proposal is necessary. It states, on page 10, that research shows that hate speech on social media leads to more crimes against minorities in the physical world, which are set out in the document. Hate speech online has led to a rise in violence against refugees, emigrants and ethnic and religious minorities. The report goes on to give some examples of the scale of that hate speech and hate crime. One in ten of LGBTIQ respondents to a survey reported that they were physically or sexually attacked because they were a member of that group. Hate speech and crime against persons of Asian origin, particularly Chinese origin, or those perceived to be of Asian origin has also increased significantly. The survey was carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Antisemitism, of course, has also increased, with 40% of Jews in the EU expressing fear of being physically attacked. Similarly, 27% of Muslims have experienced incidents of hate-motivated harassment in the previous 12 months.

Significantly, women, particularly young women, are targeted with gender-based hate speech online and offline. According to the 2020 global survey, 52% of young women and girls had experienced online violence, including threats. Older people are also mentioned. I am aware that the Minister is familiar with these statistics. That is the background to this. We could not but support it.

Let us return to the title of the Commission document: A more inclusive and protective Europe. I am on the record as saying I do not believe Europe is moving in a more inclusive direction. It is quite the opposite. It is one thing to introduce legislation down the road — I will be welcoming it subject to looking at the details, based on opting into this decision — but it is another to consider the reality on the ground regarding what Europe is becoming. The Minister will have heard us talk repeatedly on this side of the House about Fortress Europe, which is coming from organisations on the ground, and about what has happened in terms of the othering of anyone who is different.

It has already been mentioned that there are frightening images coming from the Spanish enclave in northern Africa. People are desperately fighting for their lives, drowning in the Mediterranean and climbing over fences, all to try to get a better life. Ultimately, as leaders and women, we need to ask what is happening in Europe. We talk about the Europe of our values but we must ask what values we have when we regard refugees of a particular race, colour or country in one way and refugees of a different colour or race in a different way. What is happening when we suddenly change the law for refugees from Ukraine, which is welcome, and refuse point blank to change it in any speedy manner for those in direct provision, 2,000 of whom have status and can go nowhere? There is a huge fight to get a right to work, and this is only obtained after a certain time and so on, with restrictions. With one hand we change the law just like that, and with the other we do not, depending on the circumstances.

Regarding Yemen, I have repeatedly quoted the figures. The figures and pictures are shocking. Ten thousand children have died in seven years. Do we think about that? Some 370,000 people, including the 10,000 children, are dead. Almost 20.7 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance and so on. We have a duty as a neutral country to have a reflective approach to dealing with each situation in the most humanitarian way possible as it arises while at the same time beginning to ask what is causing all these wars, what is leading to this and why we support certain countries and not others. We must ask why we do not take action in respect of Israel, notwithstanding that I fully stand with the Jewish people against any antisemitic language or attack. Why do we not stand with Amnesty International regarding it?

I thank all colleagues for their contributions and broad support for the motion. I said a lot in my introductory remarks but will make a few points that reflect so much of what has been said in the debate. First, there are people living in this country who are afraid. They are afraid to leave their houses, go on public transport and live their lives the way I and others here do. That might sound extreme or like I am exaggerating. Before we published the draft Bill, the hate crime Bill, there was a lot of consultation, not only with my Department, State agencies, An Garda Síochána, NGOs and community organisations but also with individuals who came forward and wanted to tell their stories. It is quite sad that there are people living in this country who are afraid to leave their homes. We need to respond to that and do so effectively.

Second, we live in a world that is changing. Hate crime, hate speech, racism, xenophobia and antisemitism know no borders or boundaries. We have to take on the facts that people now communicate in different ways and that online platforms and social media play a huge part. It is fantastic that we can communicate with people on the other side of the world literally at the push of a button, but ease of access now means it is much easier for people to spread hate and fear and discriminate in new forms. We have seen this manifest itself in extreme ways, most recently in France, where an individual was radicalised via his computer screen in his room to the point where he decapitated a teacher because of his beliefs or what was said to him. This is an extreme case but it reflects what is happening.

Most recently, as we all mentioned, we have noted the extreme circumstances in which a particular group of people, Ukrainian citizens, are being targeted and hate speech is being spread. We are now at the point where there is a war happening on Ukrainian soil, Ukraine being a sovereign state that has been invaded. We need to respond to this effectively.

I reassure Deputies that I am in no way in favour of limiting free speech or expression. 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. We have clear advice from the Attorney General on that. Hate speech, whether delivered in person, in print or online, is real and in many instances leads to hate crime. We need to respond effectively. The best way to do that is to make sure we have appropriate laws that the Garda can implement and that allow it to prosecute. Also, we must work collectively across the EU to call out hate crimes and ensure we have the right measures, laws and policies in place at EU level.

I thank Deputies for their support today. We will be engaging on this issue again as we bring national legislation through the House. I am really pleased we have been able to agree this motion and that Ireland can certainly play its part in tackling all forms of racism, hate speech, hate crime, xenophobia, antisemitism and every type of discrimination against people.

Question put and agreed to.
Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ar 4.47 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 5.02 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 4.47 p.m. and resumed at 5.02 p.m.
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