Saturday 19 January 2019

We're such an egalitarian State, we don't need hate crime laws

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said her department was reviewing hate crime legislation. Presumably, this review will be quite short because, alone in the Western world, we don't have any Photo: Steve Humphreys
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said her department was reviewing hate crime legislation. Presumably, this review will be quite short because, alone in the Western world, we don't have any Photo: Steve Humphreys
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Under fire from the UN yesterday over the State's failure to adequately address racism, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said her department was reviewing hate crime legislation. Presumably, this review will be quite short because, alone in the Western world, we don't have any.

Last year, it was reported there was a race hate attack every three hours in Northern Ireland. The staggering statistic was revealed by the PSNI, which assiduously logs the motivation behind crimes reported to it as a result of hate crime legislation introduced in 2004.

In contrast, according to the Central Statistics Office, just 53 crimes which identified a sectarian, anti-Semitic, racist or homophobic motive were recorded by gardaí in 2014 - one every week.

Either we're among the most enlightened societies in the world, having managed to virtually eliminate all forms of discrimination, or there is something seriously wrong with the reporting system that is in place. Unsurprisingly, figures compiled by NGOs suggest the Republic is not some egalitarian utopia and that, actually, hate crime is chronically under-reported.

In just the last six months of last year, the European Network Against Racism Ireland logged 182 racist incidents.

Among these figures were a number of serious assaults, including a heavily pregnant black woman being kicked in the stomach; a 10-year-old Muslim girl being assaulted by a group of youths in a playground; a black parent and her two Irish-born children being pelted with eggs and rubbish as they left their house; and a mother and her two children being forced to move out of their home after the words 'blacks out' were daubed across it.

There are some who say these crimes should be dealt with in the same manner as every criminal damage or assault case, with no formal acknowledgment of the motivation of the crime.

However, this only serves to mask the extent of the problem behind unreliable statistics and absolves the Government from responsibility for doing more to tackle racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Kate O'Connell, of Anti Racism Network Ireland, said the refusal to acknowledge the true extent of the problem is pervasive across society, including media reporting of attacks.

"When there is an assault that is obviously racially motivated - with attackers using racist language - the media will invariably report the attack as being 'allegedly' racist in nature.

"Why the reticence in confronting reality and calling racism out without a qualifier?

"In contrast, if an Imam makes a speech in which he praises Isil or calls for Muslims to murder infidels, the media has no qualms about calling him an extremist or terrorist sympathiser.

"It appears we don't want to be confronted about the reality of racism in our own society but are happy to call it out in others," she said.

This sentiment was echoed by Brian Killoran, CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, who said figures are low because people are loathe to report hate crime.

In fact, the Irish Integration Centre reported last year that people are 22 times more likely to report racist incidents in England and Wales than in Ireland.

"There are three main reasons people don't report these crimes here - confusion about where to go to do it, the fact that many crimes are perpetrated by neighbours, and victims are afraid to report them in case it makes matter worse, and that people don't think reporting these crimes will be of any use - they don't have any faith in the system," Mr Killoran said.

When under-reporting of hate crime is coupled with the State's haphazard method of recording it - essentially, leaving it up to the discretion of individual gardaí - the divergence in numbers between Northern Ireland and the Republic begins to make more sense.

If this new Government really wants to signal it takes racist and homophobic attacks seriously, it should introduce hate crime legislation to properly document its occurrence and punish those who target individuals because of the colour of their skin, their religion or their sexual orientation.

This would compel gardaí to think about the motivation of a crime before it is logged on Pulse.

It would also create awareness of hate crime as a problem in society and would also mean that courts would be forced to address the hate element of a crime in sentencing, thus creating a deterrent.

Irish Independent

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