I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am delighted to bring this important Bill before the Seanad this evening. It represents an important step forward in the pursuit of equality and justice for all our citizens. As a constitutional republican party, Fianna Fáil has always been committed to fighting discrimination in all its forms. The Bill seeks to tackle hate crimes in an effective and robust manner.
Only yesterday, The Irish Times reported the fact that the UN rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination in Ireland stated that "Hate crime legislation ... [needs to] be introduced as soon as possible to address the escalation in racially motivated crimes and [to] help build a safer society...". This week is Stand Up Awareness week, which calls for all of us to take a stand against homophobic and transphobic bullying.
It is a sad reality that hate crime is a real and lasting problem in Ireland today and that our legislation is sadly lacking. Ireland stands alone among European nations in not having introduced statutory protections from hate crime. If the harm of hate is to be acknowledged and countered, it falls on us as legislators to act to provide a legislative framework for the explicit naming of bias crime. Ireland must join other nations in ensuring the violence of hate experienced by vulnerable individuals and communities is challenged head-on. Individual victims are all too aware of the reasons that they have been targeted. It is for the worst of reasons - the colour of a people's skin or their ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender, age, disability, gender identity or sexuality. These reasons are diverse in nature but they all share one commonality. The victim of a hate crime has been targeted for their identity. Victims of hate crime cannot simply assert that their experience was an unlucky occurrence - the wrong place, the wrong time. Instead, they are forced to accept that their social identity was targeted and they remain at risk of repeated victimisation.
Ireland has become a more diverse and inclusive society in recent decades. Irish people of differing race and religion, Irish Travellers, LGBTQ persons and persons with disabilities have all become more visible and engaged with our political processes. This diversity is a strength. Sadly, not everyone has welcomed these changes.
Some see this strength as a threat to them and are willing to engage in violence to continue that exclusion. We are all too aware of what that looks like. We think of Shelly Xiong, who was pushed into the Royal Canal due to her race. Seán Munnelly, a 15-year-old boy, was attacked in Eamonn Ceannt Park because of the colour of his skin. A young gay couple, Anthony and Gearóid, were attacked and stabbed in Newbridge because of their sexuality, only 100 yd from my home. We have also seen the arson attacks on direct provision centres and the vandalisation of a mosque in Galway. This list is only a few examples of some of the events that have taken place in the recent past. Each of us will also be aware of other cases in which victims felt they could not speak out or which did not receive the same level of prominence for various reasons.
In a society which expounds principles of inclusivity and diversity, which was founded on the idea that all people should be cherished equally, these experiences are simply unacceptable. It is the responsibility of the Legislature to send a clear message to society that this behaviour will not be tolerated. It is then the responsibility of the criminal justice system to ensure that this message is operative and functional. By adopting this Bill's legislative proposals, we can provide tools that society needs to combat criminal expressions of hatred, hostility, prejudice, bias and contempt.
The human rights of those living in Ireland are violated daily in a manner which 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. Studies have provided convincing evidence that victims of hate crimes suffer more severely than victims of equivalent crimes, which are not associated with targeted hostility. Those who have experienced hate offences report a wider range of negative psychological impacts, which also last for longer than those exhibited by victims of non-hate-related parallel offences.
The 2016 census established the fact that diversity is now a concrete fact of life for Ireland. Shifting patterns of immigration have changed the racial, ethnic and religious composition of Irish society. This change to society has not been welcomed by all. For some, diversity represents a threat to Irishness, a threat that frequently meets with violent opposition. Those involved with representing minority communities have highlighted concerns in recent years over the rise in the number of hate crimes occurring in Ireland. These are underrecorded and underreported. I also refer to the Burning Issues 2 report, which was based on a national survey of more than 2,600 LGBT people and ten focus groups. The key issue and priority for them is the need to introduce hate crime legislation.
The Bill I introduced in the Dáil with former Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony in 2016 received cross-party support in the Dáil. It went to pre-legislative scrutiny at a committee and it stayed there because of inactivity. The fact that we have not had a two hour debate about hate crime in four years in Leinster House speaks volumes. There is an onus on the Government to get its act together and to stop dragging its feet on this issue. We cannot in good conscience wait another four years for solutions and another debate. The delay in legislating for hate crimes is inexcusable and only serves to discourage people from reporting such crimes.
The purpose of this Bill is to make provision in law for hate crimes against persons based on an individual's asylum or refugee status, race, colour, religion, nationality, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity, sex characteristics, age, or perceived age. It provides that a crime may be aggravated by hate if, at the time of committing the offence or immediately before or after doing so, a person displays prejudice and is motivated wholly or partly by racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-religious or anti-disability prejudice towards a relevant individual.
Where it can be demonstrated that an offence has been motivated by hate, this Bill would ensure that it is labelled clearly as such. Those guilty of that offence would be liable to a penalty that can be imposed for committing said offence. It will also provide for those who commit hate crimes to receive counselling to address their prejudice. The Bill refers to the offences to which it will apply, which are criminal damage, public order, theft and fraud, rape and sexual offences, and assault. I acknowledge that there is widespread support across the House, from Senators I have spoken to, for the principle of criminalising hate crime. I acknowledge also that Members of this House may well have proposals to strengthen and improve the legislation. I am willing to work with Senators on the Bill to ensure it is as strong as it can be. Those who may be the victim of such a crime deserve the support of all those who are willing to work with me to improve the legislation.
I believe I have shown, through my efforts in the previous Dáil, that I am committed to addressing this issue and I am certainly willing to engage with others who have proposals. I mention specifically Senator Eileen Flynn, who has assured me of her support, and I look forward to working with her. I acknowledge that the Government has made commitments to address this problem. The programme for Government includes a commitment to introduce legislation to tackle hate crime and hate speech. I regret that it was not listed as priority legislation for the Government, which is why I tabled this Bill.
Victims are looking for change. We must show them that change through our actions, not our words. Every person has an equal right to be protected by the criminal justice system. Stopping hate crime and bringing perpetrators to justice must, therefore, be a priority. As elected representatives and legislators, we have a duty and responsibility to put in place mechanisms that will counter the prejudice, hostility and violence that people can experience as a consequence of their identity. In introducing this Bill, I am also conscious that a number of NGOs have indicated that it needs to be amended. I am fine with that and happy to discuss and agree amendments to it. I advise the House of the following three amendments that I propose to make to my Bill on Committee Stage to address drafting issues. The first is under the interpretation of hate crime, where I propose to include any relevant offence that is actually or perceived to be motivated by prejudice. The interpretation would read:
“hate crime” includes any relevant offence that is perceived by a victim or any other person, to be wholly or partially motivated by prejudice against a relevant individual based on said individual’s asylum or refugee status, nationality, religion, colour, race, disability, ethnicity (including members of the Traveller and Roma communities), gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, transgender identity, sex characteristics or actual or perceived age;
The second amendment I will propose is to include the word "relevant" in section 2(1). The third amendment will be to the Schedule and will propose to delete the following references: "2. An offence under section 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2011"; "3. An offence under sections 6, 7, 17, 18 and 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994"; and "6. Sections 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993". In Part 8 of the Schedule, it will propose to delete references to sections 2 and 11 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
My primary concern and that of my party is that we get hate crime legislation on the Statute Book. It is vital that this sends a clear message that crimes motivated and exacerbated by prejudice and hatred will not be tolerated. Furthermore, we must not limit our responses to hate crime to the justice system alone.
We must work at all levels of society to challenge widespread discrimination and prejudice and ensure that all people are treated as full and equal citizens. I commend the Bill to the House and I look forward to other Members' contributions.