WASHINGTON D.C. – Senator JD Vance (R-OH) sent a letter to Irish Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason expressing concern over authoritarian legislation pending in the Irish parliament that would severely undermine freedom of speech in the country.
In his letter, Senator Vance points out that the United States routinely condemns censorship in countries such as China and Iran, but has not yet done so for the similarly draconian measures proposed in Ireland.
In response to an Irish senator speaking on the legislation, Senator Vance wrote on X, “Ireland senator wants to criminalize speech that causes too much ‘discomfort’ for people. If this were happening in Russia or China or many other nations we would call it totalitarian and threaten economic sanctions.”
Senator Vance’s letter reads, in part:
“I write to express concern about legislation pending in the Oireachtas that could undermine Ireland’s commitment to universally prized freedoms, including the freedom of speech. The proposed legislation, called the “Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022,” is full of vague prohibitions that would chill important public debate if they were to become law, particularly with respect to the most controversial and publicly significant matters. Given that President de Valera himself was imprisoned for sedition in 1918, I urge your government to consider the impact of this legislation on Ireland’s proud tradition of free speech.
“For example, the law criminalizes “behav[ing] in a public place in a manner . . . that is likely to incite . . . hatred against a person or a group of persons on account of their protected characteristics [while] being reckless as to whether . . . hatred is thereby incited.” What on earth does that mean? Would the prohibition include “recklessly” attributing social ills, like crime, to increased immigration to Ireland? Would it include “recklessly” affirming that gender is biologically determined and that there are only two genders, male and female? Even if a court would not interpret the law to prohibit that sort of activity, Irish citizens could be forgiven for thinking that it does. And if those citizens self-censor to protect themselves from prosecution, Ireland will be robbed of the meaningful public discourse that all democracies need…
“The United States routinely condemns similar censorious conduct from China, Myanmar, or Iran. Indeed, earlier this year, the U.S. State Department imposed visa restrictions on Iranian government officials believed to be involved in censoring peaceful protestors and “inhibiting their rights to freedom of expression [and] peaceful assembly.” I am alarmed that one of our closest friends, a democracy dedicated to upholding cherished freedoms, should undertake such legislation.
“I am particularly concerned by the following questions:
If passed into law, would Ireland’s Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 be consistent with all of Ireland’s treaty obligations?
Would the bill be applicable to all classes of foreign visitors in Ireland if enacted? Would U.S. government officials be subject to its prohibitions if they visit Ireland on state business?
If the bill becomes law, what steps will you take to ensure that Ireland’s departure from fundamental values like the freedom of expression does not damage its relationship with the United States?”