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'If you feel uncomfortable or threatened, report it': Hate crime definition introduced for gardaí

The Garda Commissioner said gardaí want to encourage victims to report these incidents to them.

AN GARDA SÍOCHÁNA has introduced a working hate crime definition as part of its diversity and integration strategy, launched today.

Speaking to reporters at the launch, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the definition will guide gardaí who are investigating hate crimes.

“It’s an important day for us and an important day in terms of protecting the vulnerable in society and that we’re here for everyone in society in Ireland, and we’re here to protect them,” he said. 

The issue about hate crime is that it is based on a prejudice-related motive and prejudice related hatred and that has a very disproportionate impact on the victim of hate crime because it feels very personal to them.

“So we want to be sure that we enhance our service to the victims of hate crime and a way of doing that is making sure we are clear about the incidents that are reported to us and that we have a response in terms of the investigation and the supervision of that investigation, towards identifying perpetrators and obviously bringing them to justice.”

In the strategy, a hate crime is defined as:

Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.

Speaking about a family who featured in a Lidl advertisement and who were recently subjected to racist online comments and death threats, Harris said the matter is still under investigation.

He said gardaí remain in contact with Fiona and Ryan and Jonathan Mathis and are in the process of identifying individuals they believe are suspects.

The commissioner also spoke about possible under reporting of these types of crimes. He said people can suffer what he described as “low grade incidents”, like name calling on the street.

He said gardaí want to get a better idea of the level of hate crime that exists in Ireland to help drive the response.

“We know there’s under reporting we want to encourage reporting, we don’t want victims to be asking ‘is this a crime or is it not a crime?’. If this often happens and you feel uncomfortable with it, you feel threatened, you should report it to An Garda Síochána.”

Harris said there should be a legislative basis for dealing with hate crimes and he expects proposals will be brought forward by the government.

Minister of State David Staunton said the Department of Justice is reviewing the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 to determine what amendments are required to ensure it is effective and fit for purpose.

“A public consultation on the Act is due to commence shortly. The department is also undertaking research into hate crime, to learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions who have taken different legislative approaches. The results of this research will help develop new approaches to ensure hate crime is addressed effectively in Ireland,” he said.

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