By Shwetali Sapte
Despite widespread instances of hate crime in Ireland, much of it goes unnoticed and unreported in the judicial system.
That’s because the country has yet to criminalise discriminatory behaviour based on one’s colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or disability.
Legislation against hate crime has been a long time coming, with the latest move towards new laws coming on 13 July, when Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Minister of State for Equality and New Communities, launched the report of a nine-month project conducted by the Hate and Hostility Research Group (HHRG) at the University of Limerick.
Commissioned by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Out of the Shadows: Legislating for Hate Crime in Ireland aimed to evaluate the treatment that hate crimes receive under existing Irish law and provide recommendations for legislative change.
These include reform in Irish public services, such as the Garda and the judicial system, so that hate crime can be better investigated and punished.
HHRG researchers conducted desk-based research, a postal survey of barristers, and qualitative interviews with hate crime victims, civil society organisations, criminal justice practitioners and gardaí.
Based on their findings, they say, the official numbers misrepresent actual hate crime levels in Ireland.
Moreover, few gardaí have any training in investigating hate crime, while solicitors and barristers had limited experience in prosecuting or defending it.
To tackle these problems, the HHRG recommends defining the term ‘bias’ in the legislation to include hate, hostility, bias, prejudice and contempt. It also suggests expanding the grounds on which individuals are protected from discrimination.
According to the report, creating new offences across all categories – individual, property, sexual, and public order crimes – will “have the greatest potential to address hate crime” by raising awareness about criminalisation and increasing recording of offences. Enhanced sentencing to provide a safety net for victims is another proposal.
However, a Department of Justice spokesperson disagreed, claiming that “hate crime is currently addressed by the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, which creates offences of incitement to hatred on account of race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.”
Under the law, a convicted person is liable to pay a fine and/or face imprisonment for up to two years.
Justice stated that the HHRG’s proposal of additional criminalisation has an unclear impact on non-reporting.
The department also cited the Garda Racial Intercultural and Diversity Office (Grido), which co-ordinates, monitors, and advises on policing Ireland’s diverse communities, as an example of EU best practice for co-operation between national and civil authorities.
“While the State claims that hate crime is being adequately addressed, our research shows that in fact it lives in the shadows,” said HHRG co-director Jennifer Schweppe.
Research group colleague Amanda Haynes added that lawmakers need to “send a clear message to society that this behaviour is not tolerated. By adopting our legislative proposals, the Government can do just this.”