‘Hate crime has become a fact of life in Ireland’ - Fianna Fáil
Sinn Féin rejects FF hate crime Bill, labelling it a ‘frightening example of lazy legislating’
Ireland is one of the few EU member states without effective hate crime legislation, Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on disability Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (fourth from left) said. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times
Ireland is one of the few EU member states without effective hate crime legislation, Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on disability Margaret Murphy O’Mahony said as the party introduced a Bill to counter such activity.
Ms Murphy O’Mahony said “violent offences motivated by bias, hostility, contempt, malice, or bigotry - hate crimes in effect- must be legislated for”.
She pointed to 2015 research by the University of Limerick Hate and Hostility Research Group, which found that hate crime “lives in the shadows of Irish criminal justice and is systematically ‘disappeared’ from the criminal justice process”.
Systematic blindness resulted in the hate element of many crimes disappearing in the criminal justice process and resulted in a failure to provide victims with appropriate legal protection.
Ms Murphy O’Connor said “the researchers went on to point out that this disappearing of hate crime from the criminal justice system is most particular in the case of disability hate crime”.
The Fianna Fáil TD was introducing the Criminal Justice (Aggravation by Prejudice) Bill with her party colleague and equality spokeswoman Fiona O’Loughlin.
Ms O’Loughlin said “hate crime has become a fact of life in Ireland”. Legislation was fundamental to demonstrate the State’s intolerance of hate and to allow for hostility to be measures and challenged.
“This Bill can provide a positive route to improving State responses,” she said. Pointing out that shifting patterns had changed the racial, ethnic and religious composition of Irish society, she noted that to some, diversity represented a threat to Irishness.
Ms O’Loughlin warned that “if the harm of hate is to be acknowledged and countered, this Dáil must act to provide a legislative framework for the explicit naming of bias crime”.
The human rights of some living in Ireland were currently being violated on a daily basis in a manner deeply damaging to both individuals and society and “in the absence of an adequate criminal justice response to hate crime offenders, victims continue to pay for these crimes”.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said she was not opposed to the principle of the legislation but she said there were elements of the Bill that would give rise to unintended consequences and would create operational difficulties.
She said it was open to a judge in a case of assault or criminal damage to include racism or any other bias motivation as an aggravating factor in determining a sentence.
But the Bill would only allow bias motivation to be taken into account if it was specifically included in the charges and was specifically proven that an offence was aggravated in this way.
Ms Fitzgerald said hate motivated crime was under consideration in her department and she would like the Fianna Fáil Bill could feed into that ongoing work.
But Sinn Féin justice spokesman Jonathan O’Brien TD rejected the Bill, describing it as a “frightening example of lazy legislating”.
He said Fianna Fáil was marginalising more groups than they were protecting in the legislation. He said Sinn Féin could not support the Bill because of what he called its “numerous deficiencies”.
Mr O’Brien said a number of interest groups, human rights groups, NGOs and some trade unions were unhappy with the Bill and had previously called for it to be rejected because it was “so fundamentally flawed”.
He also criticised an apparent lack of consultation and said the Bill gave no protection to religious minorities, or to certain groups within the LGBTQ community.
He said: “Hate crime legislation is not about protecting the minority groups that will earn you votes. It’s about providing legal protection to all minorities against attacks because of their race, religion, ethnicity, disability, gender expression or sexual orientation.”