The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr O'Donoghue, has said his Department is reviewing the effectiveness of the laws on incitement to hatred. He also told a conference on racism, organised by the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, that there was a "huge problem of hate speech" in the media.
Mr O'Donoghue said there had been only one case involving a breach of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act since its introduction in 1989. Later, a Department spokesman confirmed that more than one case had been brought, but there had been no convictions to date.
"I am aware that there has been some criticism of the effectiveness of this Act . . . At my request, officials have commenced a review of this legislation," Mr O'Donoghue said.
The Act makes it an offence to incite hatred against anyone on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or membership of the Traveller community.
Yesterday's conference was held in advance of the forthcoming European Conference on Racism in Strasbourg next month and the UN World Conference Against Racism in August 2001.
The Minister said that while the media could be used to provide education on racism, it could also have a negative influence. "We have the huge problems of `hate speech' in newspapers, on the radio and on the Internet. The Internet, in particular, presents major difficulties of control," he said.
A public awareness campaign had been approved by the Government, Mr O'Donoghue added. "The overall aim of the proposed public awareness programme . . . is to contribute to creating the conditions for building a more inclusive and intercultural society in Ireland, where racism is effectively addressed and cultural diversity is viewed as a strength rather than a weakness."
Mr O'Donoghue said the Government would ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the coming months, as the necessary domestic anti-discrimination legislation was now in place. This legislation includes the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act.
Ms Tania Kaur McFarland, of the EU Migrants Forum, said that there were regulations in the Republic which came across as institutionalised discrimination. She cited recent cases where young men employed on contract from abroad had been refused permits for their spouses from the Department of Justice.
Ms McFarland said that people who had lived in the Republic for many years had to obtain a residence permit every year. Despite the fact that they had to have a residence permit, non-EU migrant workers also had to obtain a re-entry visa every time they wished to leave the State and return.
Mr Martin Collins, of Pavee Point, said that Travellers experienced the same type of institutionalised racism as defined in the Stephen Lawrence Report. Recent reports showed that the situation regarding Travellers had worsened, he claimed.
Mr Collins said that certain sections of the media had behaved irresponsibly when reporting on issues concerning Travellers. "Some journalists and reporters are in positions of power and use their platform to articulate their own racism," he said.