How you could end up in jail under Ireland’s latest anti-free speech laws

New laws aimed at curbing hate speech have sparked controversy in Ireland. 

The updated legislation will create landmark laws to deal with hate crimes, make it an offence to deny or trivialise genocide and expand protections to include gender identity and disability. 

Opponents of the Criminal Justice Bill have raised concerns the changes go too far and will stifle free speech. 

Four ways this bill could affect you in Ireland 

Number One: According to Oireachtas documents the new legislation defines “hatred” as “hatred against a person or a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their protected characteristics or any one of those characteristics,”

In the wording of the Bill “protected characteristic” refers to a broad spectrum of things including race, colour,  nationality,  religion, national or ethnic origin, descent, gender,  sex characteristics, sexual orientation, or disability.

Number Two: Sharing or possessing ‘hateful’  information

Merely possessing material that another individual deems hateful can lead to criminal charges, even if the material is not shared with others.

The accused can be convicted irrespective of whether the material was effective in inciting violence or hatred against a person or group of individuals based on their protected characteristics.

As per the bill, “material” denotes “anything that is capable of being looked at, read, watched or listened to, either directly or after conversion from data stored in another form.”

From a very good piece at

Reporting on the Let Women Speak event in Belfast last month, this writer was offered some stickers by a lady in attendance which read, “Single sex facility, women only,” and feature the suffragette tricolour. 

 Out of politeness I took them from her and put them in my bag where they remained until quite recently. 

Now, if it were to be discovered by a biological male who identifies as female and wishes to use women’s spaces that I have those stickers – regardless of why or how – he could report me for incitement to hatred against trans people and I might just find myself in jail for up to five years. 

Number Three: Preparing material likely to cause offence

According to the law, posters and banners used in demonstrations that “incite violence or hatred” towards individuals with protected characteristics can lead to legal consequences. It is crucial to note that in legal terms, both “violence” and “hatred” hold the same significance under the classification of “incitement to violence or hatred.”

Individuals who participate in protests similar to those held in areas such as East Wall may face allegations of incitement to hatred if they express their concerns about the placement of numerous asylum seekers in their locality.

If found guilty of an offense under this section, a person may be subject to “a class C fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both” upon summary conviction, or “a class A fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or both” upon conviction on indictment.

Number Four: You could go to jail for refusing to provide your passwords 

You could find yourself in jail if you refuse to provide the Gardaí with passwords to your personal information such as on your computer if accused of a hate crime for reasons not limited to those set out above. 

The bill states that it is an offence to refuse to provide police with “any password necessary to operate it and any encryption key or code necessary to unencrypt the information accessible by the computer.”