Rights groups come together for first time to call for new hate crime legislation

A coalition of rights groups has called on politicians to introduce specific hate crime laws.

Following reports that racism and other aggravated offences are at their highest levels on record, campaigners said new legislation is needed to protect frequently targeted groups.

Unlike most of the European Union, hate crime is not a specific offence under Irish law.

Eighteen groups representing ethnic minorities, travellers, the LGBT+ community, older people and those with disabilities have come together for the first time under the National Steering Group Against Hate Crime to lobby politicians for the reform.

They want legislation for aggravated offences and for the new laws to offer justice for victims of attacks based on their race, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity.

Dr Amanda Haynes, of the University of Limerick's Hate and Hostility Research Group, is briefing politicians on best practice in the area.

"As a society, we need to establish effective responses to both the collective problem of hate crime and the individual's experience of hate-motivated victimisation if we are to interrupt its message of rejection and replace it with one of solidarity," she said.

Fianna Fáil attempted to bring in legislation on hate crime last year to allow sentencing judges to take aggravating factors into account.

The party has committed to using amendments from the coalition loosely based on Scottish hate crime laws.

"The National Steering Group Against Hate Crime call for the introduction of effective evidence-based legislation, using an aggravated offences model, which is inclusive with respect to the grounds protected and is developed in consultation with organisations representing commonly targeted groups," the coalition said.

Official figures showed hate crimes were being recorded by gardaí at a rate of almost one every day in the first half of last year.

A report released this week from European Network Against Racism Ireland iReport.ie system revealed increased levels of racist criminal offences including violence and threats to kill or cause serious injury.

There were 246 reports in the second half of last year up from 190 for the first half and at least 155 were criminal offences.

The coalition's campaign is being supported by victims.

These included Victoria Curtis who posted a picture of her bruised face after being attacked on International Women's Day last year and Abdul Rahman Ahmadzai, a 15-year-old Afghan refugee who lives in Rathfarnham, Dublin and played cricket for Leinster but is seeking a new home after being attacked.

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