The conference, which was held in University College Cork, was organised by immigrant-support group Nasc and was entitled ‘Racism and Hate Crime in Ireland: Is the Legislative and Policy Framework Adequate?’
In a statement delivered on his behalf at the conference, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said: “The responsibility for combating racism, hate crime, discrimination, and other forms of intolerance lies with all sectors of society, not just Government.”
Mr Shatter said a Europe-wide, country-by-country review of the problems of combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia through criminal law was underway.
Domestically, he said the determination of a penalty in any individual case “is largely a matter for the trial judge, taking case law, including appealed cases, into account”.
He also urged victims to come forward and report abuse and admitted that social media has “made the process of spreading the thoughts and ideologies of intolerance and indifference easier”.
However, yesterday’s conference heard that existing laws are not sufficient in tackling the problem of racist crime, with calls for a special category of hate crimes and guidelines on sentencing, especially in crimes with a racial motivation.
Stephen O’Hare of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said there was a contrast between the number of racist incidents recorded by the State and the much higher number recorded by NGOs and others.
Referring to existing laws, Mr O’Hare said: “Ireland does not have specific racially motivated offences: They are prosecuted generically.”
Delegates heard that the average number of convictions under Incitement to Hatred Act laws since 1989 amounted to less than one a year.
Siobhán Mullally of UCC’s Faculty of Law said there had been “a history of impunity” in Ireland where hate speech by high-profile figures, including in the media and by elected officials, had been tolerated. She also claimed that the Direct Provision system stigmatised asylum seekers through exclusion.
Jayson Montenegro, a Filipino who is member of the Justice for the Undocumented Campaign, said undocumented people were more vulnerable to racism and hate crime as they feel they cannot go to gardaí with their concerns.