UN official urges Ireland to introduce hate crime legislation

Garda Síochána still lack training in how to deal with racially motivated crimes, Verene Shepherd tells Government representatives in Geneva

UN rapporteur also warned that “racial profiling” had become a serious problem within the police service. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

UN rapporteur also warned that “racial profiling” had become a serious problem within the police service. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

 

Ireland’s rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric and racist attacks should push the State to introduce hate crime legislation without delay, a UN official has told the Government.

Verene Shepherd, UN rapporteur on the elimination of racial discrimination in Ireland, criticised the Government for failing to reform its legal framework on hate crime and called for a “clear time-bound commitment” to make the necessary changes in law.

Given its low rate of prosecutions, the 1989 Incitement to Hatred Act does not effectively combat hate speech, particularly online attacks, while members of an Garda Síochána still lack training in how to deal with racially motivated crimes, Ms Shepherd told Government representatives at the UN in Geneva on Monday. The rapporteur also warned that “racial profiling” had become a serious problem within the police service.

Ireland’s efforts to end racism are under review this week with a delegation led by Minister of State David Stanton appearing before the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination (CERD) in Geneva. Ireland last appeared before the committee in 2011.

The rapporteur’s points were based on recommendations submitted by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and numerous civil society groups who presented their findings ahead of Monday’s meeting.

Ms Shepherd questioned the impact and effectiveness of the State’s Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy and also warned of discrimination towards black Irish people and people of African descent in the Irish workplace.

On direct provision, she said there was an urgent need for improved reception conditions and called on the Government to stop relying on emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

Noting that a national action plan against racism had not been renewed since 2008, Ms Shepherd questioned whether the State planned to introduce a new plan and if a timeframe existed.

‘A priority’

In his address to the committee, Mr Stanton said an anti-racism committee would convene early in 2020 and produce its initial report to Government within three months but did not comment on a national action plan.

He said recent “major reforms” within the gardaí included the strengthening of the force’s capacity to respond to the needs of minorities and that the recently launched garda diversity and integration strategy included a definition of hate crime.

Legislation on hate crime is “a priority” and proposals for changes in law will be published in Spring 2020, said the Minister.

Mr Stanton acknowledged the committee would be critical of the State’s direct provision system but said he was not aware of any “workable alternative for service provision”.

Speaking ahead of Ms Shepherd’s questioning, a number of Irish civil society groups warned of institutional racism towards members of the Traveller and Roma communities. Significant cuts made to Traveller programmes during the recession have not been restored and are urgently needed, particularly in the areas of education, employment and health, said the NGOs.

‘Discrimination and inertia’

The IHREC criticised local authorities for their “discrimination and inertia” in providing Traveller specific accommodation and recommended “dissuasive sanctions” be introduced for authorities who fail to provide traveller accommodation.

Roma and people of African descent also face discrimination in the private rental sector, IHREC commissioner Salome Mbugua said.

The IHREC called for the State’s reliance on emergency accommodation to house applicants to cease immediately while in the longer term, direct provision should be phased out completely. A parliamentary committee dedicated to human rights, equality and diversity should be established to provide stronger leadership in this area along with effective hate crime law, said Ms Mbugua.

Shane O’Curry from the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) agreed that legislation addressing hate crime and online speech was urgently needed. Without this change in law, hate speech risks cascading into acts of violence, he said.

The Irish delegation will respond to the UN queries on Tuesday morning.