A conference on hate crime yesterday heard that the absence of legislation had created "permission to hate" and that hate-motivated crimes should attract harsher penalties.
The all-Ireland Hate Crime Symposium took place at the University of Limerick and heard from speakers on hate crime carried out against people with disabilities, foreign nationals, and Travellers, among other groups.
Jennifer Schweppe, the co-director of the conference, and the head of the University of Limerick’s school of law, said: “Hate crime is an enormous problem, under-reporting is an enormous problem.”
She said statistics from different groups highlighted the problem of victims not reporting the crimes to the gardaí.
The plenary address was given by Barbara Perry, associate dean and professor at the faculty of social science and humanities at the University of Ontario, who remarked on the absence of legal protections for hate crime which she said can serve to further marginalise minorities, claiming it was legislative permission to hate.
Martin Collins of Traveller rights group Pavee Point said he felt crimes motivated by racism or sexism should be seen as “aggravating factors” and should thereby attract tougher sentences.
“The Incitement to Hatred Act is totally inadequate to deal with hate crime,” he said.
Mr Collins said fresh legislation was needed and that while some speakers at the conference did not agree, he felt that crimes “motivated by hate” should be seen as aggravated crimes and “there should be tougher sentences”.
He also said recognising Traveller ethnicity did not require consensus as it was “a matter of basic rights”.
Speaking about disability hate crime, Seamus Taylor, a lecturer in social policy studies in the department of applied social studies at NUI Maynooth, said that improving access to justice for disabled people required equalising measures rather than just special measures.
The conference also heard that there was a fear of harassment among the lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) community.
Craig Dwyer, policy officer with GLEN (the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network), said restorative justice had an important role in addressing hate crime against minority groups.
Mr Dwyer added that 87% of hate crimes against members of the LGB community go unreported to police.
Speaking about hate crime against the LGB community, Dr Marian Duggan of the Hallam Centre for Community Justice at Sheffield Hallam University, said that the absence of data in Ireland was “enormously problematic”.
Other speakers at yesterday’s conference included Shane O’Curry, director of the Irish Network Against Racism, and Pat Conway, director of operations and public affairs at the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.
Mr Conway spoke about sectarian hate crime at the conference.
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