487. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the extent to which her Department can protect the freedom of speech and at the same time protect against the use of such freedom to incite hatred; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33496/21]


Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton): As the Deputy may be aware, incitement to hatred is a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989.
Justice Plan 2021 commits to introducing new legislation to deal with hate crime and incitement to hatred by the end of this year. The General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021 was published on 16 April, and is available on the Department's website.
This is an important step in delivering on the Programme for Government commitment to introduce legislation to address those who target victims because of their association with a particular identity characteristic, and to revise and update the Incitement to Hatred Act. Although incitement to hatred is already an offence, experience has shown that it is difficult to prosecute and there have been very few convictions since the introduction of the 1989 Act.
As part of the work to prepare this proposed legislation, a comprehensive public consultation was carried out which included a public survey and an opportunity for stakeholders to make formal submissions. In addition, my Department also carried out comparative research on international best practice on hate crime legislation.
The purpose of this work was to ensure that the legislative proposals presented are evidence-based, proportionate and effective, while respecting important rights to freedom of expression and association.
I can assure the Deputy that all legislative proposals are developed and put forward bearing in mind the provisions of the Constitution and our human rights obligations.
The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, provided for in the Irish Constitution and in both the European Convention on Human Rights and in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. However, like other rights in our Constitution, it is not an absolute right, and can be limited or restricted by law. This can only happen where there are compelling reasons, including protecting other fundamental human rights. Any such limitation or restriction must be necessary, proportionate and explicitly provided for in law.
I am confident the approach taken on reforms in this area will ensure the legislation introduced plays a significant part in delivering a safer, fairer and more inclusive Ireland for everyone. This is the mission of my Department and as Minister I am fully committed to combatting incitement to hatred and hate crime as a key element of this.