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.