Hate crime laws need updating, urges Immigrant Council

New council report details racially motivated attacks on foreigners, especially under-18s

The Government must urgently introduce hate crime laws to tackle rising numbers of racial harassment cases in housing estates across the State, the Immigrant Council of Ireland has warned.

The council cited increasing numbers of complaints to its anti-racism hotline about incidents in or near immigrants’ homes.

Two attmepted suicides are directly blamed on racially motivated attacks and three families have “ended up becoming virtually homeless”. Some immigrants are fearful “of leaving home or of leaving children to play outside”.

Nearly half of those affected by racist incidents are aged under 18, according to an Immigrant Council report, Taking Racism Seriously, which was produced in collaboration with Dublin City Council.

A quarter of those surveyed who suffered racially motivated abuse were physically attacked; two-thirds suffered verbal harassment. A third had property damaged or were taunted with racist graffiti.

More than nine out of 10 immigrants affected by racist insults, or attacks said they contacted the Immigrant Council only after they had found the response of State authorities to be “ineffective”.

All types

Immigrant abuse is found in all types of communities, but it has become “apparent that the majority of incidences occurred in areas of social housing”, the report found.

Most of the victims affected by this forms of racist abuse were black Africans (46 per cent), followed central and eastern Europeans (24 per cent) and Asians (12 per cent).

“Harassment of people in their homes is particularly damaging and people are in a very vulnerable position,” the report states. “The perpetrators always know where you are and there is no hiding from them.

“The home is supposed to be people’s safe place; their sanctuary. Victims of racially motivated harassment in their homes can be constantly worried that something more, possibly worse is going to happen.”

The reluctance to report incidences of hate crime has resulted in a lack of awareness among housing groups, such as the Irish Council for Social Housing and Dublin City Council.

Dublin City Council does not list “racial motivation” as a separate type of anti-social abuse, which means gardaí and local representatives do not have the adequate tools to respond, it went on.

Brian Killoran, chief executive of the Immigrant Council, warned that racist harassment in housing was "much more violent than in other settings, such as the workplace or in schools or colleges".

“We were left in no doubt of the serious impact racial abuse and harassment has on people with, shockingly, two suicide attempts reported as a direct result of racially motivated anti-social behaviour.

Vulnerable position

“Harassment of people in their homes is particularly damaging and people are in a very vulnerable position,” Mr Killoran said, adding that the abuse causes mental health issues for many immigrants.

Calling on the Government to introduce hate crime legislation that offers up-to-date protections, the Immigrant Council said the Garda must be given the tools and training to deal properly with the issue.

The Department of Justice said Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has approved a review of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, adding that it will be completed “as soon as possible”.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, founder of the Immigrant Council, warned that many people were unaware of the levels of racially motivated abuse occurring in Ireland.

“Our homes should be sacred places, places of sanctuary,” she said. “his is an invasion of people’s privacy. It’s essential we find a way to develop a robust response that will really bring about change. Now is the time, not in 10 years.”