A majority of people on both sides of the Border view hate crime as a “serious and growing problem” in their jurisdiction, according to a new report published on Monday.
It also found only a minority of people in both jurisdictions regard the police or courts’ current response to hate crime as effective.
The report recommended the creation of a community of practice to facilitate cross-Border knowledge transfer and collaborative learning to address hate on the island of Ireland.
“What the data shows is that there is enormous goodwill on both sides of the Border towards an inclusive approach to providing legislative interventions against being targeted for your identity,” said Prof Jennifer Schweppe of the University of Limerick, and one of the report’s co-author.
“But at the same time there are lower levels of public awareness, particularly of the criminal justice provisions that are currently in place, than we would like to see.”
Commenting on the significance of last month’s riots in Dublin, her colleague, Prof Amanda Haynes, said people should not be complacent. “The far-right in Ireland, I believe, is small, but I also believe that they’re dangerous and that we need to be constantly aware of the potential for people who may be disaffected for a variety of reasons… that those individuals might be mobilised or radicalised by the right.
“What the research shows is that we are at a turning point, and we have an opportunity now. We have a society that actually is very appreciative of difference and values difference, and we have to protect that.”
She said it was “heartening” to see from their research that the public’s approach towards the trans community, which “has been the subject of very vocal and antagonistic debate publicly, it’s really good to see that has not seeped into or impacted on the very supportive and warm approach people are taking and that people have towards the trans community”.
The study, Public Understandings of Hate Crime: Ireland, North and South, was carried out by the University of Limerick in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast, and was funded by the Shared Island Unit in the Department of An Taoiseach.
Its findings are based on a survey carried out simultaneously on both sides of the Border in February 2023.
In the Republic, a sample of 1,000 respondents was surveyed and weighted for age, sex and religion to align with the population. In Northern Ireland, the sample – also of 1,000 respondents – was additionally weighted for socioeconomic factors.
Noting that the North’s criminal justice system has a “longer history of naming and addressing the problem of hate crime” than that in the South, the report said the example of Northern Ireland offered “useful learning” to the Republic.
Hate crime legislation was introduced in Northern Ireland in the 2000s, but in the South, while Garda began recording racist crimes with discriminatory motivation in 2002, the legislation is in progress and is expected to become law soon.
There is a “continuing need to develop mutual understanding across the Border and to share bridge-building successes”, the report concluded.
Other key findings include that on both sides of the Border, the public understand and appreciate both the direct and indirect harms of hate, with a majority appreciating that hate crimes are more likely to have a psychological effect on their victims, and that they spread fear and isolation among minority communities.
Only a minority in the North and South – less than a fifth – felt punishing hate crime more severely than non-hate crimes is a violation of freedom of expression.
There were “concerning shortfalls” in public knowledge regarding the current legal position on hate crime in both jurisdictions.
The report made a number of recommendations, including a public information campaign to address gaps in public understandings of hate crime and criminal justice responses which it said should be “prioritised” across both jurisdictions.
It also advocated fostering further social cohesion “within and across borders by enhancing inter-group contact, in particular with the island’s transgender and Traveller communities and between people from diverse community backgrounds, north and south”.
There should also be further research into public understandings of hate speech, with particular emphasis on public perception of what constitutes criminalised hate speech.
In the aftermath of the Dublin riots, Prof Haynes said that, as a society, “we’re trying to process what happened, and trying to understand the nature of the problem we are facing.
“It’s really important our interpretation of the riots and the way we choose to address them going forward is evidence-informed, and we need to monitor public opinion and inter-group relations on an ongoing basis in order to have this evidence-informed approach to addressing any difficulties around social cohesion and social division within our society,” she said.