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Government looking at hate crime legislation as LGBT group says assaults are on the rise

The Department is putting out a public consultation in the coming weeks on the issue.

Government ministers, including the justice minister, attend the pride parade in Dublin.
Government ministers, including the justice minister, attend the pride parade in Dublin.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice said it is carrying out research into international best practice on tackling hate crime and will shortly carry out a public consultation, as LGBT advocates report the number of assaults, many of which go unreported, are on the rise. 

Earlier this week, a gay man in his 50s was assaulted by a gang of young men who posed as another gay man on the Grindr dating app, and lured him to a car park in Dublin.

He claimed it was a “premeditated homophobic attack” and posted images of the injuries he sustained online. 

Ireland is one of the few countries in the EU which has no purpose-built legislation to deal with hate crimes, which means that there are no public statistics available on hate crimes or racist attacks. 

Paula Fagan, CEO of LGBT Ireland, said these types of attacks occur frequently within the LGBT community, to the extent that it has become normal and is often not reported as a crime. 

“It’s certainly something that is coming up on our helpline and I think it’s under-reported in our community even to us,” she said. 

“Firstly, we hear about the worst cases in the media, and then we hear from other people who feel like they might be in a compromised position. For example, someone who isn’t out and they go on a date and have been attacked, or subsequently blackmailed.

“And they will come to us about it because they feel they can’t go to the guards and don’t know what to do. I think, anecdotally, that these things are on the rise and I think we’re seeing a rise in organised hate speech too.”

Justice

The Department of Justice is set to publish the first National LGBT Inclusion Strategy before the end of the year. 

In the mean time, it said it is working on ways to strengthen the Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, and it intends to carry out a public consultation in the coming weeks, as well as carrying out research into international best practice in this area. 

“The Department is currently reviewing the provisions of the Act and will shortly be announcing a public consultation process in order to gather views on how our legislation on criminal hate speech can be updated to operate more effectively,” a spokesperson said. 

“The Department is currently undertaking research on how other countries have legislated for hate crime, to determine international best practice in this regard [and] is due for completion before the end of 2019.”

At present, the act currently prohibits threatening, abusive or insulting conduct that is intended or likely to stir up hated against a group of persons on account of their race, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation. 

That legislation, however, has been criticised due to the volume of hateful content that is being posted on social media sites, and has led to calls for hate crime legislation to be reviewed immediately . 

The Oireachtas Justice Committee recently met with social media companies, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, in a bid to address the issue and look at new measures to eliminate hate speech online. 

Committee member and Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Justice, Jim O’Callaghan said legislation should have been introduced before now to tackle the issue. 

“This has been on the political agenda for the past three years so we need a quick review of the legislation and a proposal put forward,” he said. 

I agree there should be a public consultation. You could put it out for public consultation for a period of weeks and have it done but the Government don’t see there is an urgency in this. 

“They should have done this before now and we have seen numerous cases of people being targeted because of their race or orientation.”

An Garda Síochána introduced a working definition of hate crimes earlier this month to guide gardaí who are investigating hate crimes. 

Priority

Fagan said she is happy to see the Government putting out a public consultation but added that it “has to be a top priority”. 

It simply has to happen now and it has to be a top priority for the Government.

“It has to be progressed and it can’t be continued to be left. It has to be legislated for and I think that means that this Government has to do it. It has to be an essential commitment with any forthcoming elections in each party’s manifesto. 

“We’re seeing a rise in organised hate speech, and with these organised groups that are promoting hate speech about our community. It’s something we’re worried about, it’s something that has taken hold in parts of Europe, so it’s on the rise anyway. 

“When I was reading that story about that terrible thing that happened to that man, I was thinking we know from research that a hate-motivated crime is much harder for a victim, and has a much deeper impact because of the motivation behind it.”

“It completely undermines the safety of you as a person,” she added. 

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