‘Hate crime laws are a matter of urgency’: Calls to pass new legislation as hate-related incidents up by 12%

‘Reckless and dangerous’ to ‘play politics’ with hate crime issue, says Travellers’ group

Martin Collins of Pavee Point: Those opposing the legislation are 'the privileged and well-heeled who have never been subject to hate speech'. Photograph: Barry Cronin for The Irish Times

The increasing level of recorded hate crimes here has sparked calls for the Government to ensure proposed new hate crime laws are passed “as a matter of urgency”.

Those opposing the legislation are “the privileged and well-heeled who have never been subject to hate speech”, said Martin Collins, co-director of the Pavee Point Traveller and Roma centre. “It is reckless and dangerous to play politics with this issue.”

Shane O’Curry, of the Irish Network Against Racism, said the increase in racist attacks “is shocking but unsurprising given the efforts by the far right to stir hatred, and we suspect the real figure is much higher.

“It’s over to Government now to pass the hate crime Bill to give An Garda Síochána the tools they need to tackle this growing problem.”

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Both were speaking at a press conference on Wednesday of the Coalition Against Hate Crime (CAHC), a group of 23 civil society organisations representing communities impacted by hate crime.

The conference was held as new statistics were published showing the number of hate-related incidents reported to An Garda Síochána increased by 12 per cent last year, with most incidents linked to the victims’ ethnicity or nationality.

Some 651 hate-based crime or non-crime incidents were recorded in 2023. Of those, hate-based crimes increased by almost 8 per cent to 548 incidents, while hate-based non-crime incidents increased by 43 per cent to 103 incidents. Race-based hate was a factor in 36 per cent of crimes and incidents reported, followed by nationality-based hate (18 per cent) and sexual orientation (16 per cent).

Luna Lara Liboni, the coalition chair and senior policy officer with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), said while it is positive that people are coming forward with their experiences, it was “also an indicator of what those of us who work with, are part of and represent minoritised communities already know: hate crime and hostility towards our communities are a growing reality in Ireland”.

Nationality overtakes sexual orientation as factor in hate-based crimes in RepublicOpens in new window ]

The numbers should serve as “a wake-up call” for all public representatives and political parties as, to date, Ireland still has no hate crime legislation, she said.

Research by the ICCL shows that, without legislation, the hate element gets filtered out before coming to conviction and sentencing, she said.

“Legislation would make the invisible visible and recognise the additional harm caused by a crime that targets a person’s inherent identity, sending a clear message that such behaviour is not tolerated in our society.”

Mr Collins said hate crime happens all over Ireland and leaves people and their wider communities, including Travellers and Roma, “in fear”.

Because a hate crime does not affect just one person, it can make an entire community feel excluded and unsafe, he said.

“The Government needs to ensure the speedy passage of this Bill as a statement of intent to protect communities which are vulnerable to hate crime and extreme hate speech.”

Pádraig Rice, policy and research manager of LGBT Ireland, said the latest statistics “reflect the lived reality of LGBTQ+ people in Ireland” who have witnessed a continuous rise in hate crimes.

Calling for a robust response from the Government, he said the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill must be progressed urgently along with a holistic action plan.

“While LGBTQ+ people have won the right to walk down the aisle, many of us still look over our shoulder as we walk down the street. The truth is homophobia, biphobia, lesbophobia and transphobia are an everyday reality for many LGBTQ+ people in Ireland.”

The Bill, currently before the Seanad, provides for new aggravated forms of some existing criminal offences, where those offences are motivated by hatred against people with a “protected characteristic”, such as race and sexual orientation. It will create a new offence of incitement to violence or hatred based on communicating material to the public knowing it is likely to incite violence or hatred.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times