Now they're criminalising opinion
* It's rather ironic that we live in an era when more people have more opportunity to give their opinion on any given matter, while at the same time face a greater threat of criminal prosecution for expressing that opinion.
The rise of social media, radio phone-in shows and the greater belief everybody has the right to spout their beliefs on absolutely anything has ensured that we all have a forum for our thoughts. As long as those thoughts conform with the ones we are allowed to express, that is.
The old adage that sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you now looks painfully antiquated and ignorant in this golden age of caring, sharing empathy.
Of course, there's no doubt that persistent trolling and online harassment are every bit as unsettling and unnerving as being hounded by a person in the real world, but while steps have been taken to protect people from the deluge of online hate which spews from your computer every time you turn it on, do you think people should be protected from ideas they may find uncomfortable?
Even more pertinently, do you think others, in turn, should be prosecuted for expressing an opinion that makes some people uncomfortable? Well, you do if your name is Aodhan O'Riordain, the self-styled scourge of racists everywhere.
The junior Minister for 'Equality, New Communities and Culture' (whatever the hell that means) has form when it comes to calls to prosecute people he disagrees with. Let's not forget, after all, the time he infamously sent his secretary to the nearest Garda station to report then mayor of Naas, the hapless Darren Scully, for saying he was reluctant to deal with certain black Africans after some bad experiences.
But that was not the only attempt by our hero to use the law to shut people up.
He has been busy trumpeting the fact he wants our Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred laws toughened up because, he says "they are toothless" and need to be changed. He claims: "We're not trying to criminalise people's points of view." But that is, of course, exactly what he and his fellow travellers (if one can still use that term) in the likes of The Irish Council of Civil Liberties want to do.
And proving that Orwellian doublespeak is alive and well in the world of the intolerant liberal, he further digs a hole for himself by adding that: "It is absolutely crucial that people have the right to speak freely and hold passionate views." The threatening subtext being, once more, that you can hold any view you want as long as he agrees with you.
I must admit a personal bias in this argument - I've been threatened with prosecution on several occasions for breaching the self-constructed guidelines of what is acceptable and what isn't while the ICCL recently made complete fools of themselves when they tried to have another journalist charged by the cops for her remarks about Travellers.
The idea of criminalising an opinion should be one that terrifies us all. Because it simply becomes a crank's charter and one which allows said cranks, usually but not always employed by a quango or 'human rights charity', to threaten you with the authorities if you speak your mind rather than confront you with a reasoned argument.
The only people who would benefit from such speech laws are the people employed by the grievance industry, but perhaps the most interesting contribution to the whole debate came from Fine Gael's occasionally impressive Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, who recently pointed out that Travellers are "the same as everyone else, no better and no worse". Now, that's a truly radical idea, isn't it? Treating everyone in this country as an equal, who shares equal responsibility, rather than ghettoising some favoured groups in a perpetual cloud of protected victimhood?
Ah, that'll never catch on.
Having about as much interest in gardening as someone who has absolutely no interest in gardening, I've never paid much attention to the Beeb's Gardeners' Question Time. But it would appear that I've been missing a sweltering hot bed of nationalism, bigotry, xenophobia and the propagation of myths about the size of certain people's appendages. Dr Ben Pitcher, a senior sociologist at the University of Westminster says the show is rife with bigotry and claims "it is layered with, saturated with, racial meanings. The context here is the rise of nationalism. The rise of racist and fascist parties across Europe. Nationalism is about shoring up a fantasy of national integrity. White people are therefore forced to find other ways of talking about white identity - such as through gardening - so they do not appear to be racist."
Why is the show some Trojan horse of hatred?
Well, they use phrases like 'native' and 'non-native' plants and call a particular aphid a 'blackfly'.
One infuriated horticulturist (now there's a phrase I never thought I'd write) fumes Dr Pitcher "shows no knowledge of living in the real world". Of course he doesn't. That's why he's a sociologist.
For the love of kittens
Proving this column does have a heart, if not a soul, here's a public shout out to anyone who likes cats.
The daughter of a friend of iSpy recently rescued two kittens which had been tied up in a bag and thrown into a river.
It's the kind of casual, disgusting scumbaggery that blights this country and the girl is to be congratulated for her instinctive decency. After all, while we all like to think we would do the same, far too many of us turn a blind eye to the savage cruelty dished out to animals.
Given the fact they already live in a menagerie, her father is anxious to provide a good home for the sibling kittens.
In fact, he and his family are so anxious to secure a kind and loving home for the tiny critters that he promises to pay for vaccinations and neutering, meaning any new owner will just have to be kind to the creatures. And is being kind to mistreated animals not the best thing any of us can do?
Sadly, the photos he took aren't bright enough to be printed in the paper, so here's a stock shot of some kittens, but you get - as it were - the picture (the actual felines are on independent.ie).
Serious inquiries only to (01) 6644050.
There, that's my good deed for the decade sorted and I can now resume being a dick.