There have been just five convictions for hate crime in Ireland in the last three decades, new figures show.
Ireland has one piece of hate crime legislation, the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. The Act makes it an offence to create or distribute racist, homophobic or other discriminatory materials. Offenders face a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of €10,000.
According to documents released by the Courts Service under the Freedom of Information Act, there have been 44 prosecutions under the Act since 2000, of which five resulted in convictions.
The Courts Service said figures from before 2000 are not available. However, the Department of Justice said in 2000 that no convictions had been recorded before that date.
Fianna Fáil has introduced a Private Members' Bill which is currently before the Oireachtas. The Department of Justice has indicated it is also considering a reform of legislation.
Anti-discrimination campaigners say the figures show the current legislation is not fit for purpose and that much broader hate-crime legislation is required at a time when racist incidents are on the rise.
A recent survey by the Immigrant Council of Ireland said there were 240 reports of racist incidents in 2015, an 11 per cent rise from the previous year. About 40 per cent of these incidents were against Muslims.
Since 2000, only two people have been imprisoned under the 1989 legislation, one for a month in 2012 and one for four months in 2014. One person received a fine and two others were sworn to keep the peace.
Of the 44 cases, 22 were struck out or dismissed by the court and seven were withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The new figures show the current law is “not fit for purpose”, said Shane O’Curry of the European Network against Racism Ireland.“This view is shared by several international monitoring bodies. What we need in not incitement to hatred legislation, but actual hate-crime legislation.”
Mr O’Curry said new laws are needed to stiffen the penalties for racially motivated criminal acts, threats and vandalism, and to send a message to minorities “that we’ve got your backs”.
Currently, racially motivated attacks and vandalism are mostly prosecuted as ordinary assaults or acts of criminal damage, although judges can take racist motivations into account when sentencing.
Risk to minorities
“Hate-crime legislation sends a signal to society that this behaviour is not acceptable. It’s a way of mitigating the very real risk minorities feel when they go into public spaces,” Mr O’Curry said.
The difficulties in enforcing the law were highlighted in a 2011 case where Patrick Kissane, of Knockasartnett, Killarney, was charged with inciting hatred by creating an anti-Traveller Facebook page.
It featured posts suggesting that Traveller babies should be used as “shark bait” as well as at feeding times in the zoo. Another phrase suggested Travellers could be used for testing new drugs for viruses. Two members of the Traveller community in Kerry made a formal complaint to gardaí.
However the case was dismissed by a District Court judge who ruled there was reasonable doubt there was an intent to incite hatred towards Travellers. Judge James O’Connor noted that while the comments made on Facebook were “obnoxious and revolting”, they were a once-off and Mr Kissane had issued an apology.