Legislating for hate crimes North and South
Critical Perspectives on Hate Crime: Contributions from the Island of Ireland, edited by Amanda Haynes, Jennifer Schweppe and Seamus Taylor – review
Paul Abayomi, who was attacked in Summerhill, Dublin, taking part in an anti-racist demonstration by refugees on O’Connell Street in Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller
Critical Perspectives on Hate Crime; Contributions from the Island of Ireland
Edited by Amanda Haynes, Jennifer Schweppe and Seamus Taylor
Hate crime covers a multitude of sins that, as of yet, are not treated as such in the Republic of Ireland. It is defined in the United Kingdom as any incident “which constitutes a criminal offence perceived by the victim or any person, to be motivated by prejudice or hate towards a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation or disability”, and by the Police Service of Northern Ireland as any incident “which many or may not contribute a criminal offence, which perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hate”. Some 52 countries, including many EU member states but not Ireland, now have hate crime legislation. This valuable collection addresses the need for legislative responses as well as for better supports for victims.
An overview chapter by Barbara Perry, a Canadian-based expert, gives Irish examples from 2015: A video posted on Facebook showed an attack on a teenage boy with autism in which a group of youths stuffed twigs down his throat and forced him to expose himself; a young lesbian couple on their way late at night to a fast food outlet were left bleeding and unconscious following an assault that began with homophobic name calling. A chapter by Seamus Taylor, formally head of research for the UK Crown Prosecution Service and one of the co-editors, examines patterns of recurring and opportunistic violence towards people with disabilities. These share characteristics associated with racist and homophobic violence but also with domestic violence against women.
One of the most striking chapters is by Dave McInerney of the Garda Diversity Unit whose own research on the challenges facing the Garda has earned him a doctorate. One of his case studies is of a terrified Muslim family. Their car was vandalised. The tyres were slashed by a group of local youth who physically bullied their daughters on the way home from school. Minors frequently emerge as perpetrators in Irish research on day-to-day racist harassment and anti-social behaviour and this poses particular challenges for the courts, the Garda and community services. McInerney argues that resources and training on how to support victims are needed more badly than a change in the law. Chapters by Sindy Joyce and others on the experiences of Travellers and Roma spell out the need for training to address prejudice among the Garda toward some of the victims they are meant to support.
Currently there is no provision under Irish law for treating “hate” offences as anything other than common assaults. Various studies cited in the book suggest what is lacking is any specific impetus for the Garda to systematically record racist incidents because – the end of the day – doing so will not have any concrete bearing on what happens in court. A chapter by James Carr describes the systems for recording such incidents by An Garda Síochána as “ineffective” and “untrustworthy”, giving examples from the experiences of Muslim victims he interviewed. Garda statistics on racist incidents appear to be as inaccurate as other kinds, not least because there is no institutional impetus to record these properly.
A chapter by Lucy Michael examines difficulties experienced by victims of racist violence, harassment and anti-social behaviour in having their experiences taken seriously in the absence of the kind of legislation which have in introduced in some other jurisdictions. The state agency responsible for monitoring racist incidents, for working with the Garda and for developing policy in this area – the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) – was shut down in 2008.
Irish NGOs have repeatedly criticised the Irish State’s failure to address racism in submissions to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Several chapters of Critical Perspectives on Hate Crime detail how the voluntary sector has tried to fill the void created by the shutting down of the NCCRI (a body that worked with Garda and other service providers) and by a lack of leadership from government more generally. It is almost a decade since the last state initiative – the Know Racism campaign – came to an end. Several chapters focus on Northern Ireland where hate crime is taken more seriously. However, this is primarily a legacy of long-standing sectarian conflicts and of the perceived need to address these. As argued by two of the editors, Amanda Haynes and Jennifer Swcheppe, the contrasting absence of legislation and of recognition of the need to support victims in the Republic is striking.
Bryan Fanning is professor of migration and social policy at UCD