It was with a heavy heart that I rose today in the Seanad to offer my sympathies to the family of the late Jo Cox MP. Sadly neither her son of 5 nor her daughter of just 3 years will ever have known the great humanitarian their mother was. Sadly neither of those children will now ever fully experience the woman who believed that motherhood was her greatest joy, a joy that in fact surpassed all political ambition.
We must ask why this beautiful woman’s life was taken from her. Was it the Brexit referendum? That would be the easy answer. We could possibly live with the idea that some deranged person driven by a passion for one side of the Brexit debate saw himself as doing a service to the cause. While there may be some truth in that hypothesis it does not provide a complete answer. The truth is we are living in an ever more violent society and hate is a growing phenomenon.
For some social media has become the vehicle to vent their hatred. Politicians, religious, and sports people etc. are now all subjected to horrendous outbursts of hate. Since the Brexit debate started there has been an onslaught of racist commentary in the UK but has anyone been charged with incitement to hatred? In Ireland we have the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 but these laws are infrequently used.
There was a case before the courts in 2011. The case I am referring to concerns a man, who created a Facebook page which was extremely offensive to one group of Irish Citizens. The creator of this page was prosecuted under the Act in respect of his online activities. This case serves as a useful warning to those who would propagate hatred on social media sites. People should know that here in Ireland the ordinary laws of libel apply to whatever is said or published.
Those who engage in the hate game should know that in Ireland under Section 2(1) of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989-
2.(1) It shall be an offence for a person—
(a) to publish or distribute written material,
(b) to use words, behave or display written material—
(i) in any place other than inside a private residence, or
(ii) inside a private residence so that the words, behaviour or material are heard or seen by persons outside the residence, or
(c) to distribute, show or play a recording of visual images or sounds,
I believe it is time that we in Ireland used the laws that are available to us to stop the scourge of incitement to hatred. There can be no room for hate at any level in our society.
But hate needs to be challenged not just at home but internationally. For example the gun laws in the USA need to be challenged. In the USA the NRA had another good day yesterday when 65 Senators, described by some as spineless, voted to reject four measures restricting gun sales even to those on the federal terrorism watch list. What does this say about the so called war on terror which has turned the Middle East into a tinder box of violence?
We in Ireland can do little for the Cox family. We cannot return this loving mother to her children. However we can resolve to do our bit to challenge hate. We can look to those who use hate as a weapon to intimidate others. We can use our laws to subject these bullies to a punishment that fits the crime. We can look to the owners of social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook which are rapidly becoming the platform for hate and hold them responsible for what is published on their sites. In Ireland do not need new legislation we simply need to use what is already available.
As we pass our sympathies to the Cox family today let us send a message to her children. Let us tell them she did make a difference, let us tell them she gave her life to teach us tolerance.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam