The law on hate speech

What is hate speech?

In Irish law, hate speech is any communication that is made in public with the intention or likelihood of being threatening or abusive and likely to stir up hatred against people because of their:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Ethnic or national origin
  • Membership of the traveler community
  • Sexual orientation

The communication can be spoken, published or broadcast. Communication made in a private residence that cannot be seen or heard by people outside the residence is not included.

The current law on hate speech in Ireland

The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 sets out the law on hate speech.

It says that it is an offence to communicate threatening, abusive or insulting material that is intended, or likely to, “stir up” hatred against a group of people because of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation.

The communication can be spoken, in writing, broadcast or part of a recording.

If the person did not intend to stir up hatred, they can defend a charge by proving that they did not know the content of the material, and had no reason to suspect that the material was threatening, abusive or insulting.

Private residences

You cannot be convicted of inciting hatred for things you say in a private residence, unless the words, behaviour or material are heard or seen by someone outside the residence. You may not be guilty of an offence if you were in a private residence and had no reason to believe that your words, behaviour or material would be heard or seen by someone outside.

Who is responsible for broadcasts?

A broadcast is any transmission that is intended to be received by the general public.

If material that is intended to stir up hatred (or is likely to stir up hatred even if not intended) is broadcast, all of the following may have committed an offence:

  • The broadcaster (for example, the TV channel)
  • The people who produced or directed the broadcast
  • The person who made the threatening or abusive statement

The broadcaster, producer or director of the broadcast may be able to avoid prosecution if the material was not intended to stir up hatred and:

  • They did not know, and had no reason to suspect, that the offending material was in the broadcast or
  • They could not have removed the offending material for practical reasons

The producer or director may also be able to avoid prosecution if they can show they did not know and had no reason to believe that that the item would be broadcast or that it would be likely to stir up hatred.

The person who made the statement may be able to defend their actions if they can show that they did not know and had no reason to suspect that the material would be broadcast, or that the broadcast would stir up hatred.

Any person charged in respect of a broadcast can also use a defence of not knowing or not having reason to suspect that the material was threatening, abusive or insulting.

Preparing or possessing offending material

It is also an offence to prepare or to have in your possession any offending written material, sound recording or visual images, that you (or someone else) intend to distribute, broadcast, display or publish either in Ireland or abroad.

How to report hate speech

You can report hate speech in any of the following ways:

Social media

Social media companies can remove hateful content. You can read how to report hate speech on:

Proposed changes to the law

The Minister for Justice has announced that the current law on hate speech will change and new laws on hate crime will be introduced. The Incitement to Hatred and Hate Crime Bill will (if enacted):

  • Create new laws to deal with hate crimes
  • Expand the protected characteristics to include gender (including gender identity and expression) and disability
  • Make it an offence to deny or trivialise genocide

A hate crime is any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim, or any other person, to have been motivated by prejudice based on a person’s age, disability race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. Ireland does not currently have specific laws that deal with hate crimes.

The new law will replace the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989.

Page edited: 18 July 2022