Gardaí ‘identifying individuals’ behind abuse of Lidl advert couple
New Garda strategy to tackle hate crime and promote diversity is published
Fiona Ryan with Jon Mathis initially criticised the slow response of gardaí to their complaints of receiving online abuse. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Gardaí are “in the process of identifying individuals” who subjected a mixed-race couple who had featured in a Lidl advertisement to online abuse and death threats, the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.
He said the force remained in contact with Fiona Ryan (33) and her fiancee Jonathan Mathis (32) who initially criticised the slow response of the Garda to their complaints about experiencing racist abuse.
Mr Harris said the case was still under investigation and gardaí were now “in the process of identifying individuals, identifying those we believe are suspects in terms of offences that may have been committed”.
He was speaking to reporters who asked about the case at the launch by An Garda Síochána of a new diversity strategy aimed at tackling rising incidences of hate crime across the State.
The three-year programme will see enhanced reporting, recording, investigating and prosecuting mechanisms being put in place in respect of hate crime, as well as the introduction of a record for hate-related incidents on the Garda Pulse system that do not reach a criminal threshold.
The new programme also makes provisions for reporting hate-motivated incidents online.
The Garda has established a working definition for hate crime, describing it as a criminal offence which is “perceived by the victim or any other person, to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility of prejudice”.
These prejudices can be based on age, disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
A training programme will also be introduced for Garda staff to build their competency and skills to engage with people from diverse backgrounds.
Speaking at the launch, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the strategy was an important piece of work as it showed “we are here for everyone in society and can protect them”.
Hate crime involved a “prejudice based motive, and prejudice related hatred” and “that has a very disproprotionate impact on a victim of hate crime because it feels very personal to them,” he said.
He acknowledged there was under-reporting of hate crime at present and encouraged people to come forward if they felt uncomfortable with how they were being treated.
“We know there’s under-reporting we want to encourage reporting. We don’t want victims to be asking: Is this a crime or is it not a crime?. If this often happens and you feel uncomfortable with it, you feel threatened, you should report it to An Garda Síochána.”
“Actions such as this go to the heart of what is needed – concrete steps to ensure that all groups and communities in an increasingly diverse society have the confidence that they are respected, valued and safe,” he said.
He added that the Department of Justice and Equality was reviewing the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 to ensure it is “fit for purpose in a modern democracy”. He also announced that a new anti-racism committee would be established shortly.