I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I propose to share time with my colleague, Deputy Murphy O'Mahony, who is co-sponsoring the Bill. I am delighted to bring forward the Criminal Justice (Aggravation by Prejudice) Bill 2016 before the Dáil. This Bill essentially seeks to tackle hate crimes in an effective and a robust manner. As Fianna Fáil spokesperson for equality, I am sponsoring it along with my colleague, Deputy Murphy O'Mahony, our party spokesperson on disability. Deputy Murphy O'Mahony will address the disability-specific issues in her contribution. Legislation is fundamental to demonstrate the State's intolerance of hate and to allow for hostility to be measured and challenged. This Bill can provide a positive route to improving State responses and although the implementation will always need strong and inclusive leadership, these proposals should provide the foundations for an effective solution.
The 2011 census established that diversity is now a concrete fact of life for Ireland. Shifting patterns have changed the racial, ethnic and religious composition of Irish society. This change in society has not been welcomed by all and for some, diversity represents a threat to "Irishness" and frequently meets with violent opposition. Hate crime has become a fact of life in Ireland. Yet, alone among European nations, Ireland has not introduced statutory protections from hate crime. If the harm of hate is to be acknowledged and countered, this Dáil must act to provide a legislative framework for the explicit naming of bias crime. Ireland must join other nations in ensuring that the violence of hate experienced by vulnerable individuals and communities is challenged head-on.
In a society that expounds principles of inclusivity and diversity, which was founded on the idea that all people should be cherished equally, and which has recently celebrated the welcoming and embracing of difference, crimes of hate are simply unacceptable. It should not be the responsibility of victims to avoid being targets of hate crime; it is the responsibility of the Legislature to send a clear message to society that this behaviour is not tolerated. It is then the responsibility of the criminal justice system to ensure this message is operational. By adopting our legislative proposals, we hope to provide tools that society needs to combat criminal expressions of hatred, hostility, prejudice, bias and contempt.
The human rights of some living in Ireland are currently being violated on a daily basis in a manner that is deeply damaging to both individuals and society. In the absence of an adequate criminal justice response to hate crime offenders, victims continue to pay for these crimes. Research provides convincing evidence that victims of hate crimes suffer more severely than victims of equivalent crimes that are not associated with targeted hostility. Victims of hate crime cannot simply assert that their experience was an unlucky occurrence or a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, they are forced to accept that their social identity was targeted and they remain at risk of repeat victimisation.
Our proposed Bill will ensure the option is open to the Garda and Director of Public Prosecutions to pursue a hate crime conviction should such an offence have occurred. It has been pointed out for some time now that Ireland is out of step with the majority of countries in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union in that we have made no legal provision for hate crime in this country. That is what this Bill seeks to do; it will make provision for aggravation by prejudice of offences in circumstances where an offence, when, at the time of commission, is accompanied by prejudice relating to the race, colour or ethnic origin, a disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity of a person and to provide for related matters if so proven. This Criminal Justice (Aggravation by Prejudice) Bill 2016 proposes that when an offence occurs and that offence is aggravated by prejudice relating to colour or ethnic origin, a disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity of the person against whom the offence is committed and when it is stated in either an indictment or a complaint, or both, that an offence is aggravated by prejudice, then on conviction, the court shall find that the offence is aggravated by prejudice relating to race, colour or ethnic origin. The court shall also record the conviction in a manner that demonstrates that it is an offence aggravated by prejudice and will take this into account when determining the sentence. Where the sentence in respect of the offence is different from that which the court would have imposed if the offence was not aggravated, it shall state the extent of and the reasons for that difference. Therefore, the effect of this Bill would be that the courts would have to consider an offender's prejudice or hatred towards these groups and sentence the offender accordingly.
Currently we have the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 in place. This Act makes it an offence to incite hatred against a particular group but it does not criminalise those who commit the crimes against that group except under general legislation. We also need to bear in mind how much Ireland has changed since that time. As the Immigrant Council of Ireland has pointed out, it is now two decades since immigration into Ireland commenced and it is time for our laws to reflect the major changes that have taken place. Ireland is behind the curve when it comes to having effective legislation in place to deal with hate crimes. Currently, we do not have specific hate crime laws and such legislation is needed. This will help make it clear that such hatred will not be tolerated in our society. Similar legislation is in place in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales and many non-governmental organisations and voluntary bodies have been highlighting the need for hate crime legislation.
It is possible too that we are not in compliance with the implementation of the European Council's 2008 framework decision on combatting certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. The 2008 framework decision states that with regard to hate crime, "member states must ensure that racist and xenophobic motivation is considered as an aggravating circumstance, or alternatively that such motivation may be taken into account by the courts in determining the applicable penalties."
In July, shortly before I moved this Bill in the Dáil, the Rape Crisis Network insisted that we need to introduce hate crime legislation in this country. A report published by the Rape Crisis Network indicates that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transexual, LGBT, survivors were more likely to have experienced multiple incidents of sexual abuse and they generally took longer to report these incidents. The director, Dr. Clíona Saidléar, said hate crime legislation would make it easier to protect vulnerable LGBT victims. The report, based on research during 2013, had many alarming findings, such as that lesbian, gay and bisexual survivors have higher levels of multiple incidents of sexual violence than heterosexual survivors. Gay and bisexual males had almost twice the levels of rape of heterosexual males, at 63% compared with 34%. Moreover, 47% of lesbian, gay or bisexual survivors waited more than ten years to report the abuse, compared with 21% of heterosexual survivors. As Dr. Saidléar, director of Rape Crisis Network, commented, "the evidence in this report makes a strong case for the need for hate crime legislation. LGBT people are targeted by homophobia and hate."
Similarly, the LGBTIreland report for 2016 found that LGBT people face levels of discrimination and harassment and that many LGBT people cannot be themselves in their daily lives. The report indicates significant levels of harassment or discrimination experienced by LGBT people in Ireland.
Up to one third of participants had experienced verbal harassment or threats of violence due to being LGBT while 21% had been punched, hit or physically attacked during their lifetime. A shocking 75% experienced being verbally hurt, more than 50% would feel unsafe or very unsafe holding the hand of their same-sex partner and 15% had been sexually attacked. Many of us know many of these people.
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, makes the point that information about violence and harassment against LGBT people is very limited because of the under-reporting of such experiences. In order for the Garda Síochana to provide comprehensive services and strategies to tackle this violence, there must be a full understanding of the true extent of such occurrences. This corresponds with the European Council's 2008 framework which found that under-reporting is common for hate speech and hate crime. According to the CSO, there were 113 hate crimes recorded in 2013, 94 of which were racist, two were anti-Semitic and 17 were homophobic. The European Network Against Racism Ireland recorded 137 religiously or racially aggravated crimes in 2014 while between December 2014 and June 2015, GLEN recorded 19 homophobic or transphobic crimes. In 2015, 240 racist incidents were reported to the Immigrant Council of Ireland compared to 217 in 2014.
The introduction of hate crime legislation is also backed by those at the forefront of the fight against racism. In bringing forward this Bill this evening, I am very conscious that a number of NGOs and voluntary bodies have indicated a belief that it is in need of amendment. Let me be clear that I am absolutely fine with that. I am happy to discuss and agree amendments to this legislation. Indeed, I may very well bring some amendments forward myself should the House agree to allow this Bill to progress to Committee Stage. My primary concern and that of my party is to get hate crime legislation onto the Statute Book. It is vital that this House sends a clear message that crimes motivated and exacerbated by prejudice and hatred will not be tolerated. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to hearing other Members' contributions.