Editorial: ​Free speech was already at risk, without sweeping new laws to restrict it - as Ireland has introduced

News Letter editorial on Thursday May 4 2023:
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​A law has been passed in the Republic of Ireland that seeks to outlaw 'hate speech'. The legislation is very problematic, and yet it passed in the Dail with almost 90% of TDs in favour. Its aim to make illegal any attempts to "grossly trivialise" things like “genocide” and "crimes against humanity" sounds laudable. After all, Germany has strict laws against holocaust denial.

But one of the first alarm bells about the new southern laws is that Sinn Fein is among its cheerleaders. As the victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson says terrorists ought to be targets of such legislation yet Sinn Fein not merely defends IRA terror but celebrates it.

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Free speech has suddenly come under threat in the western world. Early newspapers like this one when they were founded 300 years ago helped advance the gradual move into an era of open information. By the beginning of this century, such advances had accumulated to facilitate astonishing levels of unhindered information in first world nations including the UK. A free press has made society less corrupt and dysfunctional and means we enjoy access to knowledge that is unthinkable in brutal countries such as China.

But within the last decade Europe and America have seen a sudden collapse in understanding of notions such as the fact that if you have free speech then often you will be offended by views you find objectionable.

In Northern Ireland, we saw Pastor James McConnell put in the dock for ‘hate speech’ after an anti Islamic sermon of his drew complaint from a Muslim activist who defended the hate thugs and barbarians Isis. With comical hypocrisy, the trial of the pastor was welcomed by Martin McGuinness, a man who dealt in sectarian hate acts, not just words. And note, this absurdity happened without the sort of sweeping laws that Ireland is bringing in.