Government receive almost 4,000 responses to new hate crime laws

Gardaí probe assault at protest against Covid-19 health measures
Government receive almost 4,000 responses to new hate crime laws

 Scenes from a protest at the Spire organised by the United Against Racism group to defend public health workers opposing the Far Right. Photo: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Almost 4,000 submissions have been made to a Government public consultation on new hate crime laws.

In the coming weeks, the Department of Justice will publish research conducted on legal approaches taken in other countries on addressing the problem.

The development comes after certain people attending a protest outside the Dáil opposing Government Covid-19 public health measures were filmed confronting a small number of anti-racism activists nearby.

Footage circulating on social media shows a large number of mainly men shouting sustained verbal abuse and acting in an intimidating manner towards the counter-protestors.

One female counter-protestor was left with a head injury, with blood visible on the right of her forehead.

Gardaí nearby intervened and separated the counter-protestors from the larger group, many of them carrying Irish flags, some of them makeshift.

Garda HQ confirmed to the Irish Examiner that members from Pearse Street Garda Station are “investigating an incident of assault that occurred during the protest” outside the Dáil.

In a statement, Garda HQ pointed out that no formal complaint has been received, but that investigations are ongoing.

It said that in the vicinity of Government Buildings, gardaí had to “intervene between opposing groups of demonstrators”.

In relation to the hate crime legislation being prepared, the Department of Justice said it has to be both “effective in dealing with unacceptable incidents” and respectful of constitutional protections to freedom of speech.

There have been calls for many years for updated hate crime legislation.

The Programme for Government has committed to introducing, within 12 months, legislation to deal with hate crime and hate speech.

On the public consultation process, the department said: “This consultation was conducted to ensure that the Department fully understands the lived experience of those impacted by hate speech and hate crime as well as the views of professionals and other stakeholders.

“This is necessary to ensure the laws developed are robust, clearly understood and effective in dealing with unacceptable incidents.” 

It said there is “strong engagement” from the public and that the department received 3,800 written submissions, including around 175 detailed submissions.

It said the department is also about to publish research it has commissioned into laws other countries drafted to combat hate crime: “This research is currently being finalised and it is expected to be published in the coming weeks.

“Officials are continuing to analyse all of the materials gathered, as well as other relevant legal and policy information, to ensure that the legislative proposals presented are evidence-based, proportionate and effective, while respecting freedom of expression."

The statement added: “Proposals for new hate crime legislation will be submitted for the consideration of the Government as soon as possible thereafter. 

"There will be a further opportunity for stakeholders to share their views when the legislative proposals on this important issue are published for discussion.” 

Available garda figures on hate crime, described as “potentially underreported”, which were published last December, showed the number of hate crime incidents rose from 112 in 2013, to 290 in 2016 and to 342 in 2018.

Last June, the EU police agency said Ireland is among a number of European countries caught up in a worldwide “wave” of right-wing extremism.

Europol said there is a “strong international network” involving right-wing extremists from Ireland, other European countries and the US.

Last November, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris flagged his concerns on this issue: “I am concerned about right-wing extremism. We can see evidence of it on our shores as we have seen it spread across Europe."

The Garda National Crime & Security Intelligence Service set up a section a few years ago to monitor right wing extremism in Ireland.

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