For the first time in the history of the State it will become a specific criminal offence, with longer prison terms, to commit a hate crime based on the colour of a person’s skin, sexual orientation or their gender, including gender expression or identity.
Other new “protected characteristics” from which a hate-based conviction can result include a victim’s race, nationality, religion, ethnic and national origin, and any disability.
The new offences, set to be provided for under the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021, are the first of their kind in the Republic. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee is due to publish the general scheme of the Bill on Friday morning.
“These crimes are motivated by prejudice. They make victims feel afraid for their future, their friends and their families. They lead to a divided society, where whole communities can feel unsafe and angry,” she said, adding, “perpetrators will know that we are determined to stamp out prejudice and hate.”
Displaying content intended to incite hatred in a public place, including on social media, will carry a prison sentence of up to six months on conviction. However, very specific “intent or recklessness” criteria must be met before such charges can be brought.
Under the criteria, which are designed to ensure “giving offence” is not criminalised, a conviction could only be arrived at if it was found a suspect deliberately acted to incite hatred, or at least felt it was likely they would incite hatred and decided to persist with their actions anyway.
The new hate-based offences include assault, coercion, harassment, criminal damage, threats to kill or cause serious harm and endangerment. If the hate-based element is proven, the sentence can be double that given for the same offence without a hate component.
When suspects are charged with a hate-based crime, the charge will specifically set out a hate component, as will a convicted person’s criminal record. While the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989 has been in place for over three decades, it deals with hate speech and does not cover gender, disability or Traveller ethnicity.