25/10/2019

Govt Seeking Views On Development Of New Hate Crime Laws

A public consultation has been launched seeking the public's input in the development of Ireland's criminal law on hate speech and hate crime.

The first phase of the consultation process - which focuses on how the law deals with those who seek to encourage and incite other people to hate minority groups (hate speech) - was launched by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, and the Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton TD, at Dublin Bus, Conyngham Road.

The Ministers were joined at the launch by Dublin Bus drivers Julita Banach and Victor Isere, Dublin Bus Head of Human Resources Phil Donohue, Cllr Yemi Adenuga, Cllr Hazel Chu, Dr Sindy Joyce, athlete Brandon Arrey, Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh, community worker Gabi Muntean, human rights advocate Salome Mbugua, activist and club promoter Lisa Connell, and representatives of the Gaelic Players Association.

Speaking at the launch, Minister Flanagan said: "Ireland has become a different society over the past 20 years, a much more diverse country, one in which people's differences can be accepted and embraced as bringing value to our communities. There is, however, evidence that a minority of people are determined to subject others to abuse and attack resulting from nothing more than their own prejudice and intolerance. This abuse can take place anywhere – on the street, on public transport, on the sports field, online and everywhere in between. I want to make clear that this is not acceptable to the Government and not acceptable to the people of Ireland."

Dublin Bus Chief Executive Ray Coyne said: "This consultation launched today is an important step in creating awareness of the impact of hate speech and hate crimes. All of the people of Ireland should be able to fully integrate and participate in our communities without hate. At Dublin Bus we believe our employees from 71 different countries and our 143 million customers should work and live in a society that embraces diversity, that promotes inclusivity and that values respect."

There are three ways in which the public can contribute to this consultation on hate speech, which will run until 13 December:

• An online questionnaire hosted on the Department of Justice and Equality website;

• A structured set of workshops designed to hear specifically from minority communities;

• A public call for detailed submissions, aimed at those with expert knowledge of the subject or the operation of the current legislation.

The online questionnaire is now available online at www.justice.ie. A facilitator for the community-based workshops will be appointed shortly and details will be announced on the Department's website.  The public call for submissions can also be found on the Department of Justice and Equality website. The closing date for submissions is 13 December 2019.

The outcome of the consultation will help shape the amendment of Ireland's existing law on incitement to hatred (hate speech).

Encouraging the public to participate, Minister Flanagan added: "My aim in this entire process is to ensure that anyone who is subject to hate speech, or indeed an incident of hate crime, can be clear that they are fully supported by the laws of the land. As legislators we will also have a responsibility to strike the appropriate balance between ensuring legitimate freedom of expression and tackling unacceptable or criminal behaviour that can have devastating consequences for victims.

"I believe that the views of the public are very important and that is why a consultation is taking place. I am encouraging people to reflect on their own experiences of hate speech, what they have encountered personally or what they have seen, read or heard which they consider hate speech and what kinds of protections they believe the law needs to provide.

"Hearing of people's direct personal experiences will help the legislative and policy experts in my Department to draft new laws that are robust, clearly understood and capable of delivering justice where these unacceptable incidents occur. Importantly, the consultation will also explore people's attitudes to the responsibilities of those who play an active part in spreading or distributing hate speech."

The second phase of the process, which will be published in the New Year, will address the separate but related issue of hate crime. At present, Ireland does not have specific law dealing with hate crime but where hate is identified as part of the motive for a crime, it may result in a harsher sentence from a Court. The Minister for Justice and Equality wishes to bring forward specific legislation on hate crime and, as a first step, the Department is finalising research on the effectiveness of the different legislative approaches to tackling hate crime in other countries, in order to learn from experience elsewhere and use this information to identify the approach that will be most suitable for Ireland.

The research is expected to be completed in November, following which proposals for new hate crime legislation will be brought forward for discussion. It is anticipated that this legislation may cover areas such as a physical attacks on the person, criminal damage to buildings and property, public order offences, breaches of the peace and verbal attacks. As with the hate speech phase, an opportunity will be given to experts, communities and the public to give their views. Details of this second consultation on the related issue of hate crime will be published in the new year.

Minister of State, David Stanton TD added: "The consultation being announced today is very important and builds on a wide range of work being undertaken by the Department and the Government to tackle racism, prejudice and intolerance. I very much welcome the recent move by the Garda Commissioner to introduce clear guidelines for frontline Gardaí in recording and investigating hate crime. The Commissioner's Diversity and Inclusion Strategy will help ensure the Gardaí respond consistently and robustly to reports of hate crime and I welcome his commitment to enhanced training for Gardaí in this regard.

"The Migrant Integration Strategy has a strong anti-racism focus, and sets out a whole-of-Government approach to intercultural awareness and combatting racism and xenophobia, while the new Anti-Racism Committee which I announced over the summer will shortly begin its work to help ensure that we are doing all we possibly can to tackle racism. Similarly, my Department will shortly publish a National Strategy to address some of the problems faced by the LGBTI+ citizens of Ireland, which will help improve our legislative and operational response to hate crime and harmful or illegal online content."

A discussion paper and further information on the public consultation on hate speech are on the Department of Justice and Equality website www.justice.ie.

(MH/JG)

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