The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 has been the subject of ongoing Departmental review for some time and in a number of different contexts since its enactment.
In 2008, a specific external review of the 1989 Act was carried out by the Centre for Criminal Justice, University of Limerick, in conjunction with the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism. This review was published in September 2008. The review concluded that “the complex nature of the offences in the 1989 Act arises primarily from the overriding need to balance fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, privacy and basic principles of criminal liability, with the need to protect individuals and groups against vicious racist abuse”.
The 2008 review recommended that legislative change alone would be insufficient and that measures to address racism should be included as part of an overall integration and anti-racism strategy, including education and public awareness programmes and a wide range of measures to ensure migrant and minority communities are more included in Irish society.
The review of the 1989 Act being conducted at present by my Department is designed to identify how our legislation on hate speech, including incitement to hatred, can be made fit for purpose in a modern democracy. This review is one part of a suite of measures which will include the development of new legislation on both hate speech and hate crime.
As part of the review, I launched a public consultation process on 24 October which is open and inviting submissions until 13 December 2019 and will gather the views of communities, experts and all interested persons on how our incitement legislation should be changed to make it fit for purpose. Details of the consultation are available on my Department’s website.
Some of the questions in the consultation include: what limits it is appropriate to place on freedom of expression when it comes to hate speech; what forms of hate speech are serious enough that they should be a criminal offence; whether the list of protected characteristics included in the legislation should be changed; whether the existing legislation is adequate to deal with online communications, and whether the need to prove the intent or likelihood or stirring up hatred should be altered.
Separately to the work on incitement, my Department is finalising research on the effectiveness of the different legislative approaches to tackling hate crime in other countries, in order to learn from experience elsewhere and use this information to identify the approach that will be most suitable for Ireland. When this research has concluded I will bring forward proposals for new hate crime legislation. These will be published and the views of experts, communities and the public will be taken into account to ensure that the legislation we develop will deliver a safer, fairer and more inclusive Ireland for everyone.