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Ireland anti-hate law pushed in wake of Dublin riots could criminalize memes, poses free speech concerns

Ireland is pushing anti-hate legislation in the wake of Dublin riots raising new freedom of speech concerns regarding mass migration and other issues.

Ireland's government is newly pushing an anti-hate speech law in the wake of riots that came in response to the stabbing of a woman and three children outside a primary school in Dublin.

"Language being proposed as law in Ireland means this could literally happen to you for having a meme on your phone," Elon Musk wrote on X, responding to another user who posted a gif of a police raid. Critics are widely slamming the legislation over freedom of speech concerns. 

Ireland was trending on Musk’s X Monday, as text circulated of the bill targeting any "offense of preparing or possessing material likely to incite violence or hatred against persons on account of their protected characteristics." 

Protected characteristics listed in the bill include national or ethnic origin, as well as "transgender and a gender other than those of male and female." 

According to many users, the legislation was kept intentionally vague and suggests people could be jailed for having certain memes saved to their phones or for merely being found in possession of books or videos deemed politically offensive. 

Nate Hochman, a staff writer for National Review, said the bill represents, "arguably the most radical legislation of its kind we've seen in the West." 


In a speech Friday, Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar vowed to "modernize laws against hatred" in the coming weeks after several dozen people were arrested in Dublin riots Thursday night. 

"I think it’s now very obvious to anyone who might have doubted us that our incitement hatred legislation is just not up to date," Varadkar said. "It’s not up to date for the social media age, and we need that legislation through and we need it through in a matter of weeks. Because it’s not just the platforms who have a responsibility here, and they do. There’s also the individuals who post messages and images online that stir up hatred and violence, and we need to be able to use laws to go after them individually as well." 

Critics say the legislation may also lead to the imprisonment of Irish people wary of mass migration.

The bill states, "Racism and xenophobia are direct violations of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, principles upon which the European Union is founded and which are common to the Member States."

One of the punishable crimes relating to "xenophobia" is merely "the commission of an act referred to in point (a) by public dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material," which can roughly apply to political pamphlets criticizing the influx of immigrants and refugees in Ireland.

In June, Irish Green Party Sen. Pauline O'Reilly was panned for a speech defending the bill in which she admitted, "We are restricting freedom, but we're doing it for the common good." 

As for the Dublin demonstrations, Garda [Police] Commissioner Drew Harris said 34 people had been arrested as of Thursday evening and 13 shops had been significantly damaged or subject to looting, 11 garda vehicles destroyed through arson, and three public transportation buses were destroyed by a "riotous mob." 


"These are scenes not seen in decades, but what is clear is people have been radicalized through social media over the Internet, and so you have a terrible event – and I don’t want to lose focus on the terrible event in terms of the assault, the dreadful assault on the schoolchildren and their teacher because that’s a full investigation that’s ongoing. There’s also a full investigation with respect to the disorder, and we have literally thousands of hours now of CCTV to trawl through."

The stabbing unfolded around 1 p.m. local time Thursday outside Gaelscoil Coláiste Mhuire, a primary school in Parnell Square in Dublin’s city center. A woman and three children were hurt. 

The Irish Independent identified the suspect as an Algerian man in his 50s and said he remained hospitalized in a coma as of Monday. 

The woman, a caretaker at the school, and a 5-year-old girl remain hospitalized Monday with serious injuries, according to the newspaper, while the other two children – a 6-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy – were released from the hospital over the weekend. 

The knife attack prompted riots from hundreds of demonstrators opposing the dramatic rise of asylum seekers and migrants accommodated by the Irish government from Ukraine and outside of Europe while the country battles an affordable housing shortage and a cost-of-living crisis.

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