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'The law is weak': Government launches public consultation on hate speech

The Department of Justice is currently finalising research on legislative approaches to tackling hate crime in other countries.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Updated Oct 24th 2019, 1:12 PM

THE GOVERNMENT HAS launched a public consultation on hate speech as part of its move to update legislation on the issue.

The consultation, which was launched by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Minister of State David Stanton, will take place over seven weeks and will seek views from members of the public, academics, and groups who have been targets of hate speech.

It will include an online questionnaire, a set of workshops to hear from minority communities and a call for detailed submissions from those with expert knowledge in the area.

Some forms of hate speech are already a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. It prohibits threatening, abusive or insulting conduct that is intended or likely to stir up hatred against a group of persons on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation.

However, while the existing law contains provision for serious consequences, potentially up to and including a lengthy prison sentence, there have only been 50 prosecutions under it and only a handful of convictions. 

“The law is weak, we’re anxious to ensure that our laws are robust to meet the needs of modern day living,” Flanagan said today. 

Speaking at the launch today, Dr Sindy Joyce, who is the first Traveller to graduate with a PhD in Ireland, said discrimination against people in her community is “embedded into society”. 

“A lot of people believe that the racism that we experience and the hate that we experience is actually not racism or hate at all, that it actually somehow comes down to ourselves, that it’s our own fault. So it becomes victim blaming, and I suppose it’s constant, into a cycle, a never-ending cycle.”

We have been not only discriminated against, but marginalised and isolated, and shut off from society, somehow on the verges of Irish society, not belonging to our society. For a long time we were told that we were somehow broken, failed settle people. It’s only in recent years with the symbolic recognition of our ethnicity that we have any kind of promises in society that things will get better for us in Ireland. I just hope that is the case.

The consultation comes just weeks after An Garda Síochána introduced a working hate crime definition as part of its diversity and integration strategy. 

The Department of Justice is currently finalising research on the effectiveness of the different legislative approaches to tackling hate crime in other countries. This research will be used to bring forward proposals for hate crime legislation.

These proposals will be published ahead of a second round of consultation.

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