Ireland looks set to record a horrifying increase in hate crimes in the coming months.
The reason that prediction can be confidently made is not necessarily because there has been, or will be, an actual increase in hate crimes, but because An Garda Síochána has launched a new online reporting system for hate crimes, and the evidence from elsewhere suggests this always leads to a spike in numbers.
There’s nothing wrong in principle with offering alternative avenues of reporting crime for people who don’t feel comfortable going into, or calling, a garda station. The garda say they want to create a “safe space”.
Safe spaces are good.
“Let’s stop hate together,” they declare. Stopping hate is good too.
The problem is if this compromises evidentiary integrity, leading to incidents which are not motivated by hate, or at least cannot be proven so, to be recorded as hate crimes. There were already some huge flaws in the system in that regard.
The garda now classify a “hate crime” as “any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender”.
It’s the word “perceived” which jumps out. An incident does not have to be proven to be motivated by hate. It only has to be “perceived” as such.
There is so much deliberate vagueness in these definitions that incidents which are not motivated by hate are regularly classified as if they are. It’s not only “hate crimes” which are recorded by police, including gardaí, but “non-crime hate incidents”.
Examples in the UK include a speech on immigration by the then home secretary Amber Rudd, which was reported to, and recorded by, police as a “non-crime hate incident”, despite the officer who did so admitting to not having even read it.
Another woman, who beeped her horn at a driver ahead of her at the traffic lights when he failed to move, was recorded as having committed a “racially aggravated public order offence” because the driver, unknown to her, was black. A further instance of a man who told library staff that he was campaigning for Brexit was also recorded as a hate incident.
Little wonder that the number of alleged hate incidents has grown when many are nothing of the sort.
There’s another problem with the new online reporting system, though.
The normal procedure when a crime is committed is to contact gardaí directly, who state: “You will be attended to by a garda who will take your report. He/She will make an assessment to commence an investigation. An investigation will involve gathering evidence such as taking statements from victim(s) and witnesses, etc. You will be kept informed of developments throughout the investigation.”
This does not apply to the new web page, which allows incidents to be reported anonymously, either by the alleged victim or any witness.
“If you do not wish to provide your personal details, we will still record and endeavour to investigate this crime/incident,” it says, though there is a warning: “Please note that this places considerable limitations on our ability to investigate and prosecute.”
Users are then directed to a form which asks for the “general location (if known)” of the alleged crime; “county if known”, and “dates (if known)”; followed by a box in which to enter a more detailed description of the incident being reported.
If a report is left anonymously, there will be no way to verify the stories of victims or witnesses, because gardaí will have no idea who they are, but the incident will still be recorded as a hate crime, and will appear in the annual hate crime figures. This is not true of any other crime.
You cannot report a burglary or domestic abuse or vehicle theft or criminal damage to gardaí without providing personal details.
It is possible to make an online report of the theft of property with value lower than €1,000, but again a name and address is mandatory, as is the date and time of the alleged offence (it does not qualify this with “if known”). You are also required to state your gender, nationality, email address and phone number.
Gardaí cannot, after all, investigate alleged crimes without evidence.
But why does that not also apply to hate crimes? The reason is because police are not permitted to challenge the perceptions of those making such claims. If they — or anyone else — feel they have been the victim of a hate crime, then it is recorded as one.
This turns the garda from a proactive investigative force into a complaints collection service.
Making victims from all communities feel comfortable about coming forward to the police is essential. A recent report from the European Union Agency for Federal Rights found many victims did not report hate crime incidents, either because they did not trust the police, found the process too bureaucratic and time consuming, or felt nothing would change even if they did.
These are understandable responses, but if the very same people are then the victims of other offences, they are still expected to go directly to the police, regardless of their feelings.
As it happens, when it comes to hate crimes victims already have another option, which is to “seek the services of the Garda National Diversity and Integration Unit, who will act as liaison with your local garda station or garda diversity officer”. So why the need for this new system too?
It’s long been acknowledged that hate crimes are more ambiguous and harder to define than other crimes.
Police know when a house has been burgled. It’s less clear when a particular incident is motivated by racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia. That the victim belongs to certain groups does not automatically mean that’s what caused the offence.
To automatically record every incident as a hate crime risks creating an opposite problem — that of over, rather than under, reporting.
Just as there are people who refuse to see racism where it does exist, there are plenty of equally politically biased people who insist on seeing racism where it doesn’t. Right now they are being encouraged to use third party reporting as a way of presenting Ireland as fundamentally racist, sexist, disablist, homophobic, transphobic.
Once such a system is up and running, it is guaranteed to show a large spike in hate crimes. In England and Wales, figures went up 17pc in a single year as a result. The same is bound to happen in Ireland.
That doesn’t mean Irish people will have become any more bigoted than they are now, but a compelling narrative will have been established.
There will be calls for more legislation, and bigger funding for self-styled “anti hate” organisations who want to import alien US-style culture wars into Ireland, as they did during the Black Lives Matter protests.
The inevitable result will be more, not less, division.