Sinn Fein accused of ‘so much cowardice’ on hate speech Bill

Leo Varadkar said the party had ‘buckled’ in the face of an ‘online campaign of misinformation’ about the draft laws.

The Taoiseach said there is ‘some controversy’ around parts of the Bill that are ‘less clear’
Leo Varadkar The Taoiseach said there is ‘some controversy’ around parts of the Bill that are ‘less clear’ (Niall Carson/PA)

Leo Varadkar has accused Sinn Fein of displaying “so much cowardice” on hate speech legislation.

The outgoing Taoiseach said the party had “buckled” in the face of an “online campaign of misinformation” about what effect the Bill will have.

There has been some political opposition to the Bill, particularly in the Seanad, where senators have questioned whether it would have a chilling effect on free speech and asked for a definition of the word “hate”.

Sinn Fein’s spokesman for justice Pa Daly has called for the Bill to be ditched entirely, saying it was “badly thought through and is not fit for purpose”, despite the party voting the Bill through the Dail last April.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has defended the draft laws as an effort to combat a rise in hate crimes and hate speech, but said she was “listening to” concerns.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said many elements of the Bill are “misunderstood” and rounded on Sinn Fein for their stance.

“When it comes to Sinn Fein, never has a party, in my recollection, displayed so much cowardice on so much issues so quickly,” he said.

“This is a party that supported the Bill in the Dail, tried to pretend they didn’t support it in the Seanad and they actually didn’t vote against it anyway, and now all of a sudden, because there’s an online campaign of misinformation about it, they buckle.

“These are not the kind of people who you want running your country, quite frankly.

“When it comes to the Bill itself, it has various elements to it and I think it’s misunderstood by a lot of people, and I hope we can have further debate about it.

He said he does not believe the provisions around hate crimes are controversial and that he does not believe “any normal person” thinks incitement to violence should not be a crime, such as calling on people to burn down a building.

The Taoiseach said there is “some controversy” around parts of the Bill that are “less clear”.

He said: “For example, having certain information on your phone that could be hateful, for example, and having intent to distribute.

“I know Minister McEntee had already developed a number of amendments to allay some of the concerns that people have from a civil liberties point of view. I think it is important to listen to those concerns.

“The concerns that I would say we should listen to – and I will be TD, so we’ll be voting on this, so it will still be part of my business – is concerned around civil liberties, particularly around the concerns that the Irish Council of Civil Liberties have expressed around the Bill, and that’s what the legislative process is about, it’s about reforming these things.

“There are people who have a totally other agenda and their agenda is one of hate, and they are terrified if this legislation goes through, that they’re going to be held accountable. They’re the ones we should stand up to.”