I remind the House that there are six and a half minutes for each question - 30 seconds to put the question, two minutes for the ministerial reply, one minute for on supplementary question, one minute for one ministerial reply, one minute for a final supplementary and one minute for a final reply. I am very strong on sticking to the guidelines because if we do not, there are Members who will not get to ask their questions. I will let Members know when their time is up and ask for everybody's co-operation.
1. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when Ireland will ratify the optional protocol to the convention against torture which was signed up to on 2 October 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29922/18]
I will try to keep within the time limits the Acting Chairman has prescribed. The question to the Minister for Justice and Equality concerns the optional protocol to the convention against torture. The Minister will be aware Ireland signed up to the optional protocol nearly 11 years ago, on 2 October 2007. However, we still have not ratified it. Why has Ireland not done so? When does the Minister think we will ratify it?
As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland ratified the UN convention against torture in 2002. This and previous Governments are fully committed to the convention and have fully participated in all that its ratification entails. The optional protocol to the convention against torture, OPCAT, dates from 2007. It is in addition to the convention and designed to be preventive in nature. I am fully committed to its ratification. My Department is preparing the inspection of places of detention Bill, with a view to enabling ratification of OPCAT as soon as possible. In October 2017 officials in my Department attended and participated in a round table discussion at the launch of the research of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, into the implementation of OPCAT in Ireland. The research which comprised a comprehensive report prepared by the Human Rights Implementation Centre and accompanying submission by the IHREC outlined the commission’s position on what should be the primary considerations for the State in making progress towards ratification and implementation of OPCAT and set out recommendations for the designation and co-ordination of a national preventive mechanism under OPCAT.
The IHREC’s research was circulated by my Department to relevant stakeholders for their comments and observations. The stakeholders comprised organisations with policy or operational responsibility for inspection arrangements across the ambit of the national preventive mechanism regime provided for in OPCAT, which goes beyond the justice sector. The last of thee submissions was received in April 2018 and my officials are in the process of giving them full consideration. The process will conclude this month and a meeting has been arranged with the newly appointed Inspector of Prisons to discuss the future role of the inspector's office as part of the implementation process. This engagement will inform the development of the draft inspection of places of detention Bill to enable ratification of OPCAT. It is my intention that the draft scheme will be finalised in the autumn in order that I can bring it to the Government before the end of the year.
This week we launched our campaign to have Ireland elected as a member of the Security Council a number of years from now. I very much support that campaign. For the purposes of the campaign, we have gone about informing our colleagues in the international community that Ireland is a country that complies with the highest standards of human rights and general international standards as set down by United Nations conventions. It is absolutely essential that we ratify the optional protocol that was signed in 2007. It is welcome that the Minister has indicated that that will be done, but urgency needs to be brought to the matter. The optional protocol was signed by Ireland as far back as 2007 and no real explanation has been provided for why it has not yet been ratified. The Minister is correct. What needs to be established in statute is a national preventive mechanism. We are in a situation where very many people are detained in this country. They can be detained in police stations, care institutions and elsewhere. We need a mechanism in place to provide protection for them.
I acknowledge what the Deputy has said about Ireland's campaign to seek a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2021/2022. I take from what he has said that it is a position that has the support of the main Opposition party, which I welcome. It is important in the context of Ireland's standing on the international stage. I acknowledge the importance of the attendance of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in New York earlier this week. My Department has been and is actively engaged with stakeholders on ratification of this instrument. We have recently completed consultations on IHREC's research into the matter. We are due to meet the Inspector of Prisons before the end of this month on the role Ms Gilheaney's office can play in ratification of the optional protocol. It is an important role. I recently met the inspector. I am very anxious to report progress on the matter before the end of the year and will keep the House fully informed of developments in that regard.
It is welcome that the Minister and the Government have emphasised the importance of Ireland's standing on the international stage. I hope he will also bring these principles to bear when he is considering the GRECO report which the Cabinet will consider today in the context of the Government's other proposals.
On the ratification of OPCAT, it is worth pointing out that last year the United Nations Committee against Torture noted that existing bodies such as the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, the prison visiting committees and the Inspector of Prisons do not automatically carry out visits to all places of deprivation of liberty such Garda stations, residential care centres for people with disabilities, nursing homes for the elderly and other care settings. We have seen recently, from a decision of the Court of Appeal, that many people are kept within care institutions. We have to ensure the highest standards apply in respect of their protection and for people held in Garda stations. I ask that urgency be brought to ratifying this so that we can have full respect within the international community.
On the Deputy's observations on the GRECO report, I expect that document will be published and available as early as possible after lunch. We will then have an opportunity to resume debate in the Seanad on this issue and, I hope, in this Chamber as well before too long. I acknowledge what the Deputy said because he makes an important point regarding OPCAT responsibilities in areas outside of the Department of Justice and Equality. My Department is liaising with several other Departments on implementing OPCAT and continues to facilitate the progression of this legislation. It is, however, a matter for each of those Departments and their Ministers to determine what facilities fall within their remit. It is my intention to bring a memo to Cabinet not this session but in the autumn and I hope to have a general scheme of a Bill published and debated before Christmas.
Direct Provision System
Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireQuestion:
2. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will address the adoption of the Reception Conditions Directive and further issues in the direct provision system. [29923/18]
The decision announced last week allowing those requesting asylum to seek employment was significant. I was very critical of the interim arrangements and the experience of those who applied bears that out. There were only two applicants and one of those withdrew. It is positive that what has been announced is a far more substantial scheme. There has still been some criticism of it, specifically regarding timescales and those currently going through the appeals process.
On Thursday last, the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, and I announced details of the coming into effect of the EU (Recast) Reception Conditions Directive 2013 which includes enhanced access to the labour market for asylum seekers. In summary, eligible applicants will have access to all sectors of employment, with a small number of exceptions. The directive has much broader impacts on the wider protection system and includes important provisions regarding health, education, children’s rights and material reception conditions including housing, food, clothing and a daily expense allowance. The directive came into operation on 30 June following my signing into law of the relevant statutory instrument giving effect to the provisions of the directive. It replaces the limited access to the workplace introduced back in February which, as I indicated previously, was only ever designed as a short-term temporary measure.
Last year the Supreme Court found that an absolute ban on the right to seek employment for asylum seekers, where there was no time limit in the decision making process, was unconstitutional. The Government availed of this opportunity to broaden the scope of reform required and committed Ireland, with the approval of the Oireachtas, to opt-in to the directive, aligning our position with EU norms and standards. Under the directive, asylum seekers will have access to the labour market nine months from the date when their protection application was lodged, if they have yet to receive a first instance recommendation from the international protection office and if they have cooperated with the process. That permission covers both employment and self-employment and will be granted to eligible applicants for six months, renewable until there is a final decision on their protection application.
Access to the labour market will assist international protection applicants, who are ultimately successful in their application, to integrate more easily into society. For those who do not qualify, it will provide them with an income and skill sets to take with them on their return to their country of origin. It will also allow those with means to move out of State provided accommodation and provide for themselves from their own resources should they wish to do so.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
An information campaign has commenced to ensure that applicants, employers, trade unions, NGOs and all other relevant bodies are fully informed of the labour market access and eligibility arrangements that will apply. Full details and an application form are also be available on the INIS website, www.inis.gov.ie.
Participation in the directive builds upon the existing programme of reforms to ensure that applicants are treated humanely and with dignity and respect while awaiting a final decision on their protection application.
This is a significant advance. I commend those organisations that campaigned for this. It was not a short campaign and, while the Minister responded in a good spirit to the decision of the Supreme Court, it did ultimately take a Supreme Court decision to bring the Government into this space. I commend the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Migrant Rights Council, Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, MASI, and many others. I particularly commend the Rohingya man who took the case of NVH versus the Minister for Justice and Equality.
Notwithstanding that it is a significant advance, the Minister has not responded to two difficulties with the scheme as announced. The first is that I would have preferred an entitlement to work after a six month period rather than the nine months that has been decided. That would have been in line with what the Immigrant Council decided. More significantly, I am disappointed that it appears that those who have already received a negative first instance decision from the international protection office will be excluded regardless of how long they have been here. That means the international protection appeals tribunal has significant delays and this will mean that some of the people who have been here the longest, a large category of perhaps several hundred people, will be excluded from the scheme and will not be able to avail of the right to work.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire will be aware that the EU (Recast) Reception Conditions Directive requires that access must be provided no later than nine months. To facilitate speedy processing of applications for labour market permission, my officials will accept applications from eight months and permission will be valid immediately from the ninth month. In consultation with Government colleagues, I will review all of the arrangements for access to the labour market, including the nine month period, one year from now. This will provide sufficient time to assess the effectiveness of the current arrangements. It is important, in the context of international protection, that we ensure that we can have an early and speedy determination. I am keen that such a determination will be made, in the first instance, within a period of nine months, or shorter if possible. It is important for everybody involved that there be an early decision-making process. I am happy to receive submissions at any stage over the course of the year on any issues and I would be happy to hear from Deputy Ó Laoghaire about any concerns that either he or his party might have. I will review the process 12 months after the regulation comes into effect.
That is all very well from here on but I am referring specifically to a category of people who have not already received a speedy decision. They have already been living in Ireland for a period of years and they will still not have the right to work. That is significant. The other point is that a lack of a right to work, and we must not lose sight of this, was a denial of the dignity of residents in direct provision centres and asylum seekers. That was a major criticism of the direct provision regime but it was not the only denial of dignity within that regime by any means. The Government has to go forward from here and outline its intention to transform the system and move away from the direct provision system. I acknowledge the point regarding the optional protocol under the UN Convention Against Torture and it is important that will have the scope to take in direct provision centres.
A notice, however, was posted in a direct provision centre in Newbridge last Friday banning the use of electronic devices in bedrooms during the night. That does not indicate a location with the kind of liberty desired. It is important that people have autonomy. I will finish on this-----
The Deputy is way over time.
Very well, that is fine.
The import of the Deputy's question, in short, is why do we have this system of direct provision and are there any plans to replace or abandon this system.
Quite clearly the direct provision system encompasses a range of State services, including food, accommodation, health and education directly provided to international protection applicants through all of the relevant Departments and agencies. It is a whole of Government support system for those seeking international protection in the State, although the term is more often used to describe the accommodation centres provided by the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department. Notwithstanding the criticism levelled at the system, particularly in terms of length of stay, it has proven effective in ensuring those who come to our country seeking international protection receive food and shelter and have immediate access to our State services. More than 60,000 people have been provided which shelter since its inception. It is not possible to predict how many people may arrive in any given year seeking international protection. However, the system we have ensures all applicants can be offered immediate shelter, accommodation of a full-board nature and a range of services such as health and education while their applications are being processed. I am very keen to ensure the time in which the application is being processed is as short as possible.
I appeal to everyone to try to keep to the time limits. I will not hit people over eight, ten or 12 seconds, but if we do not stick to them it is not fair to other Members.
Sexual Offences Data
3. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will address the fact that Central Statistics Office figures show an increase in sexual offences of almost 15% in 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29826/18]
Last week the Central Statistics Office published its recorded crime figures for the first quarter of 2018. Those figures reveal that in respect of sexual offences there was a 14.7% increase of recorded crime. When we consider this in light of the figures from the previous quarter, that is the last quarter of 2017, there appears to be a significant increase. The figures for the fourth quarter of 2017 showed a 17% increase in sexual offences, with a 28% increase in rape. What are these figures saying to the Minister and what, as Minister, does he intend to do about it?
As I stated last week when the latest crime statistics were released by the CSO, the rise in the recorded incidents of sexual assault, and particularly incidents of rape, is something the Government continues to take very seriously. Those found to have committed such abhorrent crimes will face the full force of the criminal justice system.
While the Deputy will appreciate that the investigation of sexual offences is conducted by An Garda Síochána in the first instance, the Government has also moved to strengthen the legislative provisions in place to deal with these crimes. In this context, the Deputy will be aware that the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was a significant development of the law on sexual offences, putting in place a statutory definition for consent to a sexual act. This definition is both clear and wide-ranging, to ensure that the law is succinct and clear in what constitutes rape in this jurisdiction. Furthermore, the Act identifies those most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and it targets those who would take advantage of that.
In addition, the Government recently approved the drafting of two further pieces of legislation. These are the criminal law (sexual offences) (amendment) Bill, which will provide for presumptive minimum sentences for repeat sexual offenders, and the sex offenders (amendment) Bill, which proposes a number of amendments to the Sex Offenders Act 2001 following a review of the management of offenders under that Act. The scheme also includes provisions for the electronic monitoring of sex offenders, and court powers to prohibit a sex offender from working with children. It is my hope that both pieces of legislation will be progressed through the Oireachtas as expeditiously as possible. I am, of course, very open to improvement of these Bills by amendment as they go through the Houses
I assure the Deputy that the Government remains committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement and provide reassurance to citizens. I assure the Deputy not only about my concern at these latest figures but also on my commitment to act to ensure that we, as Government, do our best in the circumstances.
The continuing increases are very worrying. The reason for them may be twofold. It could be because there is greater public confidence and people, particularly women, are coming forward to make complaints. However, there is an alternative explanation for it, which is that, regrettably, the incidence of sexual offences, including rape, is on the increase. We need to identify what is the cause of it and this requires further research. It would not surprise me if it was the case that the rate of sexual offences is on the increase when we consider the fact that very many young men are learning about their sexuality from the Internet and pornography on the Internet, which presents women in a very submissive and malleable way. We need to be very careful about these figures. It is not just a matter for An Garda Síochána. It is a matter for policy makers. We need to ensure there are greater resources and training for An Garda Síochána. The Garda and the State need to work more co-operatively with the Rape Crisis Centre and we need to provide greater support for complainants. If I walk out of here and I am assaulted there is no doubt that I will report it to the Garda. Unfortunately, it appears to be the case that very many female victims of sexual offences do not make complaints because of concern about the arduous nature of what is involved.
The Deputy has raised a number of issues. I assure him that in terms of Garda resources I am very conscious of the unprecedented level of resources made available to the Garda Síochána in the current year. I am very keen this will continue. The Deputy made a very important point in so far as determining the causes of the increases in the statistics. In this regard I announced in the aftermath of a well-publicised rape trial in Belfast a review of the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. That review is examining all aspects of the investigation and prosecution of offences to ensure there is a compassionate and fair system in place. I agree with Deputy O'Callaghan when he speaks about the need to ensure an atmosphere of toleration on the part of complainants. I have to say the review will be taken forward by the Department in consultation with relevant agencies in the criminal justice sphere, many of whom I have already met, and I will be very happy to keep the House updated in this regard.
When victims of sexual offences and rape are interviewed after the trial process has completed they state they find the whole process very harrowing and a very surprising experience. I introduced legislation last week to amend the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act to provide a complainant at the earliest stage with advice and information in respect of what the process would involve. Will the Minister look at this carefully? It is necessary that we provide greater support to complainants and victims of sexual offences at an early stage. It is simply the case, and I do not know the explanation for it, that people who are the victims of sexual offences and rape do not approach the Garda with complaints with the same enthusiasm as other individuals who are victims of other crimes. There is a reason for this. I welcome the review the Minister has indicated is ongoing. A similar review is going on under Lord Justice Gillen in Northern Ireland and I ask that we also take into account his conclusions when his report is published.
I would be very keen to do so and in that regard I would welcome an early return of the Executive in Northern Ireland to allow me interact on a face to face basis with an appropriate colleague in the Executive.
To ensure that victims and complainants feel comfortable coming forward to report their experience it is important that we have sufficient training on the part of the Garda. In that regard I want to point out the establishment of the National Protective Services Bureau to oversee the investigation of a range of crimes, including sexual offences. The divisional protective service units are staffed by dedicated officers and will include the investigation of sexual offences in their remit. To date the training in these units has concentrated on domestic abuse. I am very keen this will move forward. I acknowledge the importance of the training workshops and I assure the House that every effort will be made to ensure the Garda Síochána has an appropriate level of resources to facilitate a level of training that accords with best international practice.
4. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if longer sentences and stiffer penalties for criminals who break into homes of elderly persons will be introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29824/18]
To my mind one of the worst crimes that happens in our communities is where the homes of elderly people are broken into and robbed and the elderly people are assaulted. They have given their lives to bring our country to where it is. This is the most unsavoury crime that happens.
I call on the Minister to treat this as such and ensure the severest penalties possible will be meted out to these criminals and that they will be put away for a long time in order that they will not perpetrate these crimes on elderly people again.
I agree with the Deputy that burglary is a most serious offence. I am mindful of the impact it can have on a victim, particularly a victim who is elderly or vulnerable. Reflecting the seriousness of the crime, there are stringent penalties in place for burglary offences. Under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, the offence of burglary is punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment. Aggravated burglary, where a weapon is involved, is punishable by up to life imprisonment. The Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015 was introduced by my predecessor specifically to target repeat offenders, with provisions on consecutive sentencing and bail.
Within the parameters set by the Oireachtas, the sentence to be imposed in a given case is a matter for the courts. The Deputy will be aware that judges are independent in the matter of sentencing, subject only to the Constitution and the law. The court is required to impose a sentence which is proportionate, not only to the crime but also to the individual offender, in the process of identifying where in the sentencing range the particular case should lie and applying any mitigating factor which may be present. The vulnerability of a victim, including vulnerability by reason of age, may be regarded by the court as an aggravating circumstance.
The Deputy may be aware of recent judgments by the Court of Appeal which set down sentencing guidelines for burglary and robbery. In this jurisprudence the court stated that if a considerable number of aggravating factors were present, it would raise the offence to the highest category, meriting a sentence of nine to 14 years before mitigating factors could be taken into account. In addition, I have indicated that I will be bringing forward amendments to the Judicial Council Bill 2017 which will address the matter of sentencing guidelines more generally. The amendments are close to finalisation and I am satisfied that they will strengthen the provisions contained in the Bill which provide for a sentencing information committee.
A home is a person's castle. I will outline two incidents. Johnny is an elderly man. There is a straight laneway of half a mile to his house from the public road. If someone opens the gate and proceeds along the laneway, he is watching at the window. He goes into an outside shed to peep around the corner to see who has landed in his yard. He will not make himself available if he does not know the person. That is how afraid he is after his house was broken into while he was at Mass. Two brothers, Tim and Joe, were robbed recently. Now one of them sleeps while the other stays awake to watch because they are afraid that they will be robbed again. Regardless of the figures and the sentences the Minister mentioned, many of these crimes are being committed by people on bail. Someone who has a record and is caught again should not be granted bail again. There should be mandatory, not discretionary, sentencing. I am calling for mandatory sentencing where old people's lives are changed forever when someone enters their home and robs or beats them. No discretion should be allowed in how they are dealt with.
In the time available I will not repeat what I said on sentencing. I sympathise with Johnny, Tim and Joe. There are Johnnys, Tims and Joes in every constituency. I am concerned to ensure there will be special initiatives to tackle crime, especially in rural areas. In addition to the extensive policing measures being implemented as part of Operation Thor, An Garda Síochána is also supporting a number of partnership initiatives to tackle categories of crime which particularly affect rural areas and elderly people.
In dealing with the theft of tools from tradespeople and machine equipment in general, I acknowledge the importance of TheftStop which has been designed to deter criminals from taking and selling farm equipment and other machinery by ensuring it is clearly marked with a unique identifier. I am also aware that An Garda Síochána and the Construction Industry Federation recently launched a "Secure It, Keep It!" initiative in County Cork which adjoins the Deputy's county. I send a strong message to communities that they should work closely with An Garda Síochána to ensure every effort is made to fight the unacceptable incidence of crime rightly referred to by the Deputy.
I do not want to inhibit debate on such an important issue, but I remind the Deputy that has one minute and one minute only.
All right. The Minister is saying communities should connect with the Garda, but that is impossible because of the closure of Garda stations in rural areas. There is no Garda station in Sneem and it is 35 minutes before a garda lands from Kenmare and almost an hour before a garda land from Killarney when gardaí based in Kenmare are out. Communities do not have the same level of interaction with the local garda as they had previously. There were four gardaí in Kilgarvan, but there is none now. It is now served from Kenmare.
The Minister talked about burglary, including the theft of farm machinery. I am talking about elderly people whose lives are changed forever. I travel around the county a lot and have found that anyone who is a licensed gun owner does not seem to be targeted. How do these fellows find out who has a gun licence and who does not? I appeal to the Minister to deal with the crimes perpetrated against vulnerable elderly people in rural areas and villages. I have received many requests for lighting to be improved because people are so afraid. They have a little comfort when they can see up and down the street and there is no one around.
Please, Deputy. I need to call the Minister.
The Minister needs to deal with this issue differently in rural areas because these fellows are at it continually and do it while out on bail, which should not happen. I am asking for mandatory sentences. We should lock them up and throw away the keys because elderly people are never the same once they have been hit once.
I am sorry to say the Deputy breaks his promises.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I am committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country, including County Kerry, to provide reassurance for the Deputy's constituents in the many cases he raises in the House on a regular basis. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that on 31 May, the latest date for which figures are readily available, the strength of the Kerry Garda division was 325. There are also 20 Garda reserves and 36 civilians attached to the division. When appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units. I acknowledge the importance of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. Every effort will be made to ensure the ongoing protection of the Deputyis constituents in County Kerry and beyond.
5. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if hate crime legislation will be introduced; the steps he is taking to improve the recording of such crimes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29838/18]
A report by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties published yesterday has found that the lack of specific hate crime legislation has given rise to what is termed a policy vacuum. The hate aspect of crimes is gradually filtered out as complaints make their way through the criminal justice system. How does the Minister intend to respond to the report and address the issues raised therein?
Equality and the protection of minorities form important components of the work of my Department. The Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, and I are very committed to ensuring Ireland is a safe and secure country for everybody.
I acknowledge and welcome the research launched yesterday by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. A wide body of criminal law is used to combat racism and xenophobia. Criminal offences such as assault, criminal damage and public order offences that are committed with a racist motive are prosecuted as generic offences through the wider criminal law. The trial judge can take account of aggravating factors, including racist motivation, during sentencing. It is clear that hate crimes could be considered in the context of the Judicial Council Bill 2017, which includes provisions relating to sentencing guidelines.
Under the provisions of the Prohibition of Incitement to Racial Religious or National Hatred Act 1989, which sets out offences of incitement to hatred on account of race, religion, nationality, ethnic or sexual orientation, it is an offence to use words, behave, publish or distribute written material, or broadcast visual images or sounds which are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or are likely to stir up hatred. The provisions of the 1989 Act, which defines "hatred" as "hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation", are under review in the Department of Justice and Equality. I would welcome the views of the Deputy and other Members of the House in the context of this review. The work of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties is particularly useful in this regard. My officials will engage with all interested parties with the aim of addressing the findings in the context of the review that is under way.
That is not a very satisfactory response. As the Minister knows, the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 applies only to what is regarded as hate speech and is completely unsuited to addressing crimes motivated by hate such as horrific acts of violence, criminal damage and petty vandalism. The Minister must accept that the impact of such crimes, even at the lower end of the spectrum, can be devastating for victims. Just this week, reports emerged of a young man posting on an online forum in real time as he prepared to throw a rock with a homophobic message attached to it through the window of a gay bar in a petty and cowardly act of violence. The chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Emily Logan, has explained that such an act serves as a "message crime" by sending reverberations through minority communities. Hate crimes make people think twice about their place in Irish society and embolden those who harbour views which most of us find abhorrent. What is the Minister's response to the increasing level of hate crime we are seeing in this country?
I assure the Deputy that I regard the research in the report that was published yesterday as hugely important. It will contribute greatly to the understanding of how hate crimes are dealt with across the State. I recognise that the report identifies a number of issues that need to be addressed if we are to ensure hate crimes are dealt with in an effective, rigorous and robust way. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and I are committed to this. The Department of Justice and Equality is examining the recommendations and will make proposals in response to them in due course. I will be happy to keep the House informed of developments in that regard.
The Minister has said that he and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, are committed to this. What actions do they intend to take? There is no evidence that the Minister is taking this issue seriously. It is as if this problem was brought to his attention yesterday in the Irish Council for Civil Liberties report. The migrant integration strategy, which was published over a year and a half ago, commits the Government to a review of the current legislation. Equally, the recent LGBT youth strategy talks about the need to review the legislation in this area to identify if any gaps exist. Will the Minister give a commitment to do anything other than review the situation? This is a pressing issue and a growing issue. Rather than talking vaguely about being committed and looking at the report, the Minister needs to come up with a practical and urgent response. The least the Minister should do is require the courts to take account of bigoted motivation when sentences are being considered. At the moment, it is completely discretionary. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has observed that its application is inconsistent in sentencing. Will the Minister give a commitment to introduce legislation to tackle this most pressing issue?
I reject the Deputy's hollow criticism. She knows, having served in government as a Minister of State, that any legislation must be informed legislation. If we are to ensure this is the case, the starting point must be a review. I assure her that a review is under way in this instance. I expect that the review will result in legislation. I accept that this is an important and urgent matter.
The House will be aware of the existence of the Garda racial, intercultural and diversity office, which is responsible for co-ordinating, monitoring and advising on all aspects of policing Ireland's diverse communities. The office monitors the reporting and recording of hate and racist crime on a continual basis. The ethnic liaison officers who have been appointed by An Garda Síochána, which is currently receiving unprecedented resources from the Government, work with their counterparts in the racial, intercultural and diversity office to play a fundamental role in liaising with minority groups. The ethnic liaison officers around the State and the staff of the racial, intercultural and diversity office work in partnership to encourage tolerance, respect and understanding within communities, to help to prevent hate and racist crime and to provide advice and assistance to victims of hate or racist crime, as required.
With respect, that is complete waffle.