Irish campaigners call for hate crime legislation

Irish campaigners call for hate crime legislation

Rights groups have renewed calls for hate crime legislation after only 47 incidents were recorded in the first half of the year.

Officially, the number of racist, homophobic and anti-semitic cases up to the end of June is slightly below the previous two years which saw 111 reports for the whole of 2013 and 118 in 2012.

Campaigners claim Ireland is the only western democracy not to specifically classify hate crime, leaving a massive gap between the records and the reality for minority groups.

Based on Garda data, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said there were 40 racially motivated incidents in the first half of the year, six homophobic and one anti-semitic.

Most cases involved minor assaults or public order offences.

Last year there were more than 100 crimes classed by gardai as hate motivated - 92 racist incidents, 17 homophobic and two anti-semitic.

Jennifer Schweppe, University of Limerick law lecturer, said hate crime legislation should cover the nine areas already set down in the state’s equality laws, including disability.

“If we had hate crime legislation, then there would be a reason to record the hate motivation,” she said.

“Ireland is outstanding as being the only western democracy without hate crime legislation. We are very far behind. Even if you take our nearest neighbours - we are 16 years behind Britain and in Northern Ireland it was introduced in 2004, so there’s a huge gap.”

The CSO data shows racially motivated crime peaked in 2007 when 215 incidents were put on the Garda Pulse system, while the peak for anti-semitism was 2010 when 13 instances were recorded.

Homophobia peaked in 2009 with 36 offences, according to the records, with subsequent years showing 14 incidents in 2010, 21 in 2011 and 18 in 2013.

Among the heavily publicised recent hate crimes was the targeting of then justice minister Alan Shatter last April when a photograph of Nazi soldiers and white powder, which turned out to be physically harmless, was sent to his south Dublin home. He was also subject to anti-semitic abuse on posters in Limerick last year.

The Irish Integration Centre reported earlier this year, based on studies of hate crime statistics, that people are 22 times more likely to report racist incidents in England and Wales than in Ireland.

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) is planning to further develop this by launching an online homophobic crime recording system in December.

The group’s policy development officer Craig Dwyer said: “We have statistics to go on but anecdotally and from research we would echo concerns that there is a massive under-reporting. We know a lot more goes on than is suggested by the Pulse statistics.”

Mr Dwyer said in Glen’s experience crimes motivated by homophobia are not always recorded as such and noted that people who are victims of transphobia crimes cannot have the incidents properly recorded on Pulse. There are only three classifications on the system.

A Garda spokesman said the force regards racist or hate crime as a strategic importance.

“The Garda Racial Intercultural and Diversity Office strives to ensure that minority communities can report any form of racist incident to the gardai in the confidence that it will be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly,” he said.

Transgender Equality Network Ireland (Teni) is also planning to expand its own reporting system which has previously identified half of victims of transphobic or homophobic incidents did not go to police.

A report from the University of Limerick last month called for four new offences aggravated by hostility to be enshrined in law: assault, harassment, criminal damage and public order.

Ms Schweppe added: “Evidence from abroad tells us that there is a link between hate incidents occurring, and their escalation into hate crime. If the Gardai can properly track incidents, they can deal with them appropriately and try to prevent hate crimes occurring.”

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