State has responsibility to ‘send message’ about hate crime

The State has a responsibility to send “a clear message” that hate crime will not be tolerated, the head of the country’s human rights agency has said.

Speaking before the launch of European Commission-funded research, Emily Logan said hate crime had a “real-world, oppressive and damaging effect” on those who fall victim to it.

“Hate crime can cause people to withdraw from society and avoid expressing their identity,” said the chair of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

“It is not the responsibility of victims to avoid being targets of hate crime; the State, as the principal duty bearer, has a responsibility to send a clear message to society that hate crime is not tolerated.”

The report, the Lifecycle of a Hate Crime, is part of a project across five EU states, coordinated by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL). 

The Irish research, published yesterday, was conducted by the Hate and Hostility Research Group at the University of Limerick.

The report, detailed in the Irish Examiner last April, shows a “dramatic increase” in hate crime in Ireland in recent years following changes in garda recording practices.

Recorded figures on hate crimes show there were more than 300 recorded offences in 2016, compared to just over 100 in 2014 and a yearly average of around 160 between 2006-2014.

It said that researchers, garda civilian statisticians, and civil groups believe the figure still “under-represents” the real level of hate crime in the country.

The National Steering Group Against Hate Crime, a coalition of civil society organisations, has called for the introduction of hate crime legislation for a number of years. 

The authors of the Lifecycle Report highlight that the absence of any laws against hate crime has led to a “policy vacuum” in relation to crimes motivated by prejudice in Ireland.

At a meeting of Garda chiefs and the Policing Authority last week, the force’s top statistician, Dr Gurchand Singh said they had questions over the integrity of the data on hate crime.

Assistant Commissioner for Community Engagement Pat Leahy said he “wouldn’t be hugely confident” over the reliability of the hate crime figures.

Sgt Dave McInerney, head of the Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office, said training of gardaí was “imperative” in responding to suspected hate crimes and interacting with people from ethnic minorities.

AC Leahy said resources for the Racial Office “haven’t kept pace” and that “more structure” was needed.

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