In the dim lit corridors of power, an icy wind of change is blowing across the Emerald Isle. The Irish Green Party, in line with their contemporaries on the left worldwide, have taken a step that will make George Orwell himself twist uncomfortably in his grave. Our world is no stranger to freedom being curtailed under the guise of preserving it, but this act signifies a devastating blow to one of the pillars of any thriving democracy – free speech.
Pauline O’Reilly, the chairwoman of the Irish Green Party, during the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022, uttered a statement so powerful, it still echoes in the minds of those who value their right to speak freely. “We are restricting freedom“, she said, “but we are doing it for the common good“.
But who decides this ‘common good’?
Could it be the very forces that seek to muzzle dissenting voices?
The bill seeks to make the “incitement to violence or hatred against” people with “protected characteristics,” a criminal act, in addition to “condoning, denying or grossly trivialising genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.” While the protection of vulnerable communities is essential, such a vaguely-worded bill raises questions about the possible suppression of dissenting views, criticism, or discussions.
These developments are not exclusive to the Emerald Isle, however. The long arm of censorship is stretching across the globe, reaching into the heartland of our own Democratic Party. In a disheartening departure from their free speech values, Democratic leaders are championing the cause of censorship and speech regulations with uncharacteristic zeal.
The most dramatic affirmation of this shift comes from none other than President Biden himself, who has accused social media companies refusing to silence opposing views as “killing people”.
Free speech, a cornerstone of democracy, is now being labelled as “a white man’s obsession.” Disturbingly, the movement against free speech has adopted a dangerously Orwellian narrative, justifying the restriction of freedom to ‘protect‘ freedom. Substituting the term ‘censorship‘ with ‘content moderation‘, they’re making a concerted effort to disguise their drive to silence opposition under the garb of curbing disinformation and misinformation.
O’Reilly, in her address to the Irish Senate, casually laid bare the modus operandi behind this legislation, stating that all law and legislation are about the restriction of freedom, done for the common good. The chilling implication of such a statement is that a ‘deep discomfort’ caused by differing opinions is now sufficient grounds to stifle speech.
O’Reilly openly acknowledged the existence of hateful views but advocated for their eradication, hinting that the majority, presumably those in power, will decide what views instigate “deep discomfort.” Such a loosely defined criterion exposes this legislation to potential misuse, opening Pandora’s box of selective and biased application.
The world watches as Ireland teeters on the edge of a free speech precipice. Its leap into the abyss could set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world to follow. Just like the European Union’s efforts to roll back Western free speech values, Ireland’s new law threatens the principles that form the bedrock of democratic societies.
The brave words of Frank Ryan, who fought against the treaty, seem ironically prophetic now – “as long as we have fists and boots, there will be no free speech for traitors.” Today, Ireland appears set to dictate, “no free speech for haters“.
We stand on the verge of an era where the voice of the masses could be suppressed under the banner of ‘protecting the common good‘.
It is a grim prospect, and one that we must resist.
The right to speak freely is not merely a privilege bestowed by those in power – it is the very lifeblood of democracy itself.