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US senator expresses concerns about Irish bill that would restrict free speech

U.S. Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, raised questions for lawmakers in Ireland, who are proposing a bill that could jail citizens for merely possessing material that criticizes certain protected characteristics, like gender or national origin.

Dubbed the “Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offenses) Bill 2022,” the proposed legislation is intended to target hate speech, though critics have compared it to the concept of punishing people for “thoughtcrime,” a term popularized by George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984.”

The text of the “Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offenses) Bill 2022,” notes that a person can be imprisoned if they “prepare or possess” material that is “likely to incite violence or hatred against a person or a group of persons on account of their protected characteristics or any of those characteristics with a view to the material being communicated to the public or a section of the public, whether by himself or herself or another person.”

IRISH CITIZENS COULD SOON BE JAILED FOR ‘POSSESSING MATERIAL LIKELY TO INCITE VIOLENCE OR HATRED’

The bill includes a variety of “protected characteristics” that one can be prosecuted for criticizing, including, race, color, nationality, religion, national or ethnic origin, descent, gender, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, or disability.

Vance addressed a letter to Irish UN Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, in which he expressed concern over the pending legislation, sitting in the Irish parliament.

“I write to express concern about legislation pending in the Oireachtas [aka the Irish parliament] that could undermine Ireland’s commitment to universally prized freedoms, including the freedom of speech,” Vance wrote. “Given that President [Éamon] de Valera himself was imprisoned for sedition in 1918, I urge your government to consider the impact of this legislation on Ireland’s proud tradition of free speech.”

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J.D. Vance

He continued by saying the law criminalizes those in public who behave in a way that could incite hatred against a person or group of people because of their protected characteristics.

“What on earth does that mean,” Vance asked the Irish representative. “Would the prohibition include ‘recklessly’ attributing social ills, like crime, to increased immigration to Ireland? Would it include ‘recklessly’ affirming that gender is biologically determined and that there are only two genders, male and female?”

Vance told Nason the bill would rob Ireland of the public discourse “all democracies need” if citizens self-censor to protect themselves from prosecution, adding that the law is vague.

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Irish Green Party Senator Pauline O'Reilly

Ireland Sen. Pauline O’Reilly spoke to the Seanad Éireann, where she claimed the law protects people from “discomfort” associated with views about their identities.

Vance said the U.S. condemns similar “censorious conduct” from China, Myanmar or Iran, explaining the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on government officials from the latter because they were believed to have been censoring “peaceful protesters” and “inhibiting their rights to freedom of expression” and peaceful assembly.

“I am alarmed that one of our closest friends, a democracy dedicated to upholding cherished freedoms, should undertake such legislation,” Vance wrote.

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He then presented several questions to the UN representative, like whether the law, if passed, would be consistent with all of Ireland’s treaty obligations.

Earlier this month, O’Reilly, a member of the Green Party, was criticized after she advocated for the bill that would restrict free speech.

Vance also asked if the bill would be applicable to all classes of foreign visitors in Ireland and if U.S. government officials would be subject to the prohibitions when visiting Ireland.

The final question Vance posed was if the bill does become law, what steps will Nason take to ensure Ireland’s departure from fundamental values of democracy, like freedom of expression, does not damage its relationship with the U.S.

In defense of the bill, O’Reilly 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,” she added. “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.”

Alexander Hall of Fox News Digital contributed to this report.

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