Irish News

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Call for hate crime legislation

Published 02/09/2014 | 14:42

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Academics at the University of Limerick have called for legislation to tackle hate crime

Specific offences and longer sentences must be created to cover the glaring absence of hate crime in Irish law, academics have said.

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The University of Limerick said new legislation on the worsening phenomenon is long overdue and tougher penalties should be introduced to punish the motivation for racist and prejudicial attacks.

Law and sociology experts said parliament needs to send out a strong statement that any crime committed out of a hate is dealt with more severely.

Senator Ivana Bacik, who launched the report, said the research has exposed the limitations of Irish law.

"The report shows that the current legal regime is incapable of addressing hate crime, and that legislative change is required," she said.

Some 93 racially motivated crimes were officially recorded last year including seven assaults causing harm, 16 minor assaults and 44 public order offences.

The total number of race related incidents reported by the Garda fluctuates from 64 in 2003 to a peak of 217 in 2007 in the 10 years to 2013 when the statistics have been recorded.

The report claimed the justice system's response to hate crime is haphazard at best with the response of gardai, public prosecutors and courts dependent on the individuals because of what is says is a lack of clear policy.

The researchers found no requirement on judges to impose harsher penalties for racist incidents even if the prejudice has been confirmed

They warned that the recording of hate crimes by the Garda is unsystematic with figures on the Pulse system unrepresentative of the reality as the force only classes a minority of the groups which are frequently subjected to abuse.

UL called for the Government to amend incitement to hatred legislation and enact new laws covering assault, criminal damage, harassment and public order aggravated by hostility.

The report, A Life Free from Fear - Legislating For Hate Crime In Ireland: An NGO Perspective, warned that economic recession offers fertile ground for hate crime.

Fourteen NGOs working with people with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities, travellers, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities and prisoners were surveyed on the issue of hate crime.

They identified incidents including physical violence, sexual and verbal abuse and harassment.

All the groups said Ireland needs to prioritise action on hate crime and o nly one charity, which was not named, said hate crime was not a specific issue of concern.

The most commonly cited grounds for the crimes were race which was identified by eight NGOs, religion or sexual orientation in seven, disability in five, gender in six and being a traveller in five. Immigration status, politics and African identity were also grounds on which people may be targeted, the survey found.

Hate speech, including online, was reported as a salient problem particularly for travellers.

Jennifer Schweppe, lecturer in UL School of Law and co-author, said the lacuna (omission) in Irish law has created a "permission to hate".

"It is unacceptable for the State to hide behind the cloak of judicial sentencing discretion, in the expectation that any hate crime will be dealt with more severely by a judge," she said.

"The current legislative position is simply unacceptable, leading to the further victimisation and 'othering' of often already marginalised communities.

Ms Schweppe added: "Legislating for hate crime in Ireland is no longer optional, but a necessity."

The academics said Irish law is anomalous from international norms and that victims and support groups are warning that hate incidents are a serious source of social and individual harm. They act as a message crime, they said.

Professor Barbara Perry, of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and world expert on hate crime, said the absence of necessary laws sets Ireland apart in the European context, and across the western world.

"Without it, Ireland stands virtually alone in its silence with respect to protecting vulnerable communities from the harms of this particular form of violence," she said.

The academics noted that Ireland has until November 2015 to transpose an EU Directive which sets minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.

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