Lack of hate crime laws a ‘glaring anomaly’

Specific offences should be urgently introduced to criminalise the motivations of people who carry out hate crimes, according to a new study.

Researchers said Ireland is coming under growing international pressure to do so and was one of the few states in Europe without such laws.

Currently in Ireland, people are convicted for a criminal offence such as assault. Under the proposals, they would be prosecuted if certain crimes were motivated by hostility, such as racism or homophobia.

In addition, researchers at the University of Limerick, want such hostility to be an aggravating factor when judges are sentencing people for other crimes.

“The absence of hate crime legislation in Ireland is a glaring anomaly in the European context,” said Barbara Perry of the University of Ontario in a foreword of the report.

A leading world expert on the area, Prof Perry added: “Without it, Ireland stands virtually alone in its silence with respect to protecting vulnerable communities from the harms of this particular form of violence.”

The report, A Life Free From Fear, conducted research with 14 NGOs — 13 of which said hate crime was a specific issue of concern.

Co-author Amanda Haynes said researchers were “struck” by the stories of victims and their experiences of targeted hostility, including harassment, criminal damage, assault, and, in some instances, sexual assault.

She said they were targeted not because of who they were as individuals but who they were “perceived as representing” and that this had a “ripple effect” within those communities.

She said NGOs were “frustrated” at their inability to help victims because of the absence of legislation.

The research examined the models in England and Wales, the North, and Canada. The British countries had a wider definition of hostility, while the Canadian model was tighter — where the hostility had to be shown to cause the offence.

The UL academics recommended four new offences “aggravated by hostility”: assault, criminal damage, harassment, and public order. It further recommended that other crimes should attract higher sentences where hostility could be shown to be an aggravating factor.

Law professor and senator Ivana Bacik, who launched the report, said the authors recognised the new offences attracted controversy, in that motivation would become part of the offence.

“The report shows that the current legal regime is incapable of addressing hate crime, and that legislative change is required,” said Prof Bacik “Crucially, the report also presents useful proposals for the appropriate legislative model, and this is particularly welcome.”

Dr Haynes said they were about to conduct a follow-on study which would talk to legal professionals as to whether the proposed offences could be prosecuted.

Fellow co-author Jennifer Schweppe noted the existing Incitement to Hatred Act only achieved a tiny number of prosecutions in 25 years, but said she was confident their proposals would work in practice, as they had done in other countries.

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Discrimination reaction

-“Racist incidents are a daily occurrence for ethnic minorities. including Travellers and migrants.” European Network Against Racism Ireland

-“Travellers have been subjected to hate speech for many years. The growth in use of the internet has resulted in hate speech becoming an extremely serious issue.” Irish Traveller Movement

-“Very significant evidence of high levels of verbal, physical and sexual harassment and violence experienced by LGBT people related to their being LGBT.” Gay and Lesbian Equality Network

n“People with an intellectual disability are particularly vulnerable to violence or the threat in violence. People in residential care are particularly at risk.” Inclusion Ireland

-“Our target groups experience multiple types of discrimination on a regular basis.” Sport Against Racism Ireland

-“We work to combat racism and hate crimes as many of our clients would experience them.” NASC

-“We know that racism and discrimination are significant problems in Ireland but many incidents of racism are not reported.” Doras Luimni


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