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Saturday 23 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
Sam Boal via Rolling News
# Hate Crimes
McEntee says planned new hate crime laws will carry more severe penalties
The new Incitement to Hatred and Hate Crime Bill is planned for the autumn

 NEW HATE CRIME legislation will be brought forward to the autumn under the Department of Justice’s commitment to strengthen hate crime and hate speech law in Ireland, Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said. 

The Minister said that the new legislation – the Incitement to Hatred and Hate Crime Bill – will make it easier to prosecute hate crimes in court and will carry more severe penalties.

The Bill will introduce harsher penalties for a range of offences in circumstances where those crimes are motivated by the hatred of a person or group on the basis of a range of  characteristics, including: race, colour, nationality, sexual orientation, gender and disability.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Minister McEntee said that the maximum penalty for an assault causing harm is five years, if convicted by a jury. This could increase to seven years if the assault is found to be committed with hate, she said. 

The Minister also said that the new laws must “have teeth” and be prosecutable.

“There are people in this country who are simply not living their lives as they should because of fear,” she said.

“We all have a right to feel safe and to be safe. For somebody to feel unsafe simply because of who they are – their race, their religion, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation – it’s not a society that I want to live in, and it’s not what we should be tolerating.”

She added: “It’s a crime to assault someone, it’s a crime to damage someone’s property, to harass someone but, while a judge can take an aggravating factor of hate into account, it’s not in our statute book, it’s not the law.”

McEntee said that the last piece of legislation that was introduced to deal with hate speech was the 1989 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, under which there have been just 50 convictions.

The move has been broadly welcomed by minority representative groups, including the National LGBT Federation (NXF).

Adam Long, the organisation’s Board Director, told The Journal that hate crime is a “pressing priority” among the LGBT community and other minority populations.

“Hate crime has been a leading priority for the LGBT + community and has become even more critical in light of a surge in homophobic and transphobic hate attacks in Dublin in particular,” he said.

“As Minister McEntee said, it is really important that the legislation has teeth and is not symbolic. It is crucial that this law is enforced and enforceable and backed up with adequate training and resources.”

According to Long, Ireland is an outlier when it comes to hate crime legislation.

“Ireland stands virtually alone in the EU, and the wider western world, in not having hate crime legislation.”

The new legislation will cover all forms of media, including online and social media.

Minister McEntee said that the legislation will contain robust safeguards to protect freedom of speech and debate.

“You can have a discussion or debate where people have very opposing views. Someone might be insulted by the other person’s view but it doesn’t mean that that person is inciting hatred against them.”

She added: “So we have to create a high bar because it is quite a serious penalty.”

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