793. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the extent to which she can ensure a fair and even balance between the right to freedom of expression and the rejection of xenophobia; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22336/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Justice Plan 2021 commits to introducing new legislation to deal with hate crime and incitement to hatred by the end of this year.
As the Deputy may be aware, Minister Helen McEntee recently secured Government approval to publish the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021.
The Bill will create new, aggravated forms of certain existing criminal offences, where those offences are motivated by prejudice against a protected characteristic.
The protected characteristics under the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021 are:
- Ethnic or national origin
- Sexual orientation
The proposed new Bill will repeal the 1989 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act in its entirety.
It is important in considering changes to the 1989 Act to bear in mind the fundamental right, enshrined in our Constitution and in the European Convention on Human Rights, to freedom of expression.
Though fundamental, this right is not absolute and can be limited or restricted by law for compelling reasons, including protecting other fundamental human rights.
Any limitation on freedom of expression must, however be necessary, proportionate and explicitly provided for in law. Our new legislation must respect the essence of the right to free expression. We must ensure that the limitations we, as a society, choose to place on freedom of expression by prohibiting incitement to hatred are needed in order to protect the rights and freedoms of others, and are effective in doing so.