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Irish senator under fire for advocating bill to restrict free speech

A speech delivered in June by an Irish lawmaker who said the work of legislatures is about “restricting freedoms” in the name of the “common good” has gone viral, with criticism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Senator Pauline O’Reilly of the Green Party, in defense of Ireland’s proposed Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences Bill 2022, spoke at the Houses of the Oireachtas in June, saying, “We are restricting freedom, but we’re doing it for the common good.

“You will see throughout our constitution, yes, you have rights, but they are restricted for the common good. If your views on other people’s identities go to make their lives unsafe, insecure and cause them such deep discomfort that they cannot live in peace, then I believe that it is our job as legislators to restrict those freedoms for the common good.”

The clip went viral last week after riots in Dublin in response to the stabbing of a woman and three children outside a primary school in the city. The Irish Independent identified the suspect as an Algerian man in his 50s and said he remained hospitalized in a coma as of Monday. 

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Advocates for the bill pushed the law after riots inspired by activists who believed the perpetrator of the crimes was an immigrant. Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar vowed to “modernize laws against hatred” in the coming weeks after several dozen people were arrested following the riots in Dublin.

“I think it’s now very obvious to anyone who might have doubted us that our incitement hatred legislation is just not up to date,” Varadkar said. 

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“It’s not up to date for the social media age, and we need that legislation through, and we need it through in a matter of weeks. Because it’s not just the platforms who have a responsibility here, and they do. There’s also the individuals who post messages and images online that stir up hatred and violence, and we need to be able to use laws to go after them individually as well.” 

But the legislation is facing sharp criticism from free speech advocates on the international stage. 

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International and author of the book “Censored,” said, “It is the responsibility of governments to protect, not squash, free speech.”

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“In any democracy, there must be space for disagreement. Ireland’s draconian proposal to ban ‘hate speech’ — something the government refuses to define — will have severe implications for the basic human right to free expression in the public square,” Coleman said in a statement to Fox News Digital.

“It’s clear that where ‘hate speech’ laws have been introduced, they result is a severe crackdown on peaceful expression.” 

Coleman argued his point, citing a case in Finland, for example, where parliamentarian and grandmother Paivi Rasanen faced a four-year legal battle and three criminal charges for voicing her faith-based beliefs about human sexuality and posting a Bible verse on X, formerly Twitter, that supported her views. 

Last month, Rasanen was found not guilty of hate speech for a second time, this time by a court of appeals in Helsinki.

“Western nations should be very careful not to reintroduce archaic ‘blasphemy law’ in the form of modern day ‘hate speech’ laws that punish citizens simply for sharing opinions that go against the political or cultural orthodoxies of the day,” Coleman added.

Ireland’s bill states, “Racism and xenophobia are direct violations of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, principles upon which the European Union is founded and which are common to the Member States.”

One of the punishable crimes relating to “xenophobia” is “the commission of an act referred to in point (a) by public dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material,” which can roughly apply to political pamphlets criticizing the influx of immigrants and refugees in Ireland.

Ireland Senator Sharon Keogan, an independent, has spoken out against the proposed legislation.

“Section 9 establishes that someone can be put into jail for having incited violence without actually having incited any violence,” Keogan said during a speech in September 2023. “This is clown-world stuff. The law is there to protect people. What we have here is draconian legislation which can put someone in jail where not one single person has been harmed or victimized.”

Fox News Digital’s Danielle Wallace contributed to this report.

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