Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Questions (142, 143)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

142. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when his Department began examining legislating for hate crime; the reason for the delay in bringing forward legislation in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46850/19]

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Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

143. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 317 of 5 November 2019, the details of the review of the incitement to hatred legislation carried out by his Department or on behalf of his Department since 1989; when each review was commenced and concluded; the recommendations of each review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46853/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 143 together.

The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 has been the subject of ongoing Departmental review.

As set out in my response to Parliamentary Question 317 of 5 November 2019, an external review of the 1989 Act was carried out in 2008. The review, entitled "Combating Racism and Xenophobia through the Criminal Law", was conducted by the Centre for Criminal Justice, University of Limerick, in conjunction with the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism. This review was published in September 2008.    

As set out in my previous reply, the review concluded that “the complex nature of the offences in the 1989 Act arises primarily from the overriding need to balance fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, privacy and basic principles of criminal liability, with the need to protect individuals and groups against vicious racist abuse”. 

The 2008 review recommended that legislative change alone would be insufficient and that measures to address racism should be included as part of an overall integration and anti-racism strategy, including education and public awareness programmes and a wide range of measures to ensure migrant and minority communities are more included in Irish society.

Among other conclusions and recommendations, the review:

- identified a need for guidance for judges so that they consider racism as an aggravating factor deserving a tougher sentence.

- recommended an update to the Act specifically to include “racism on the internet”.

- recommended that those involved in the Courts, the Police and the administration should be trained on the full extent and potential of all existing legislation to deal with racism.

- cautioned against introducing specific ‘aggravated offences’, expressing the view that these would be too difficult to prove.

- calls for stronger ‘flanking measures’ to support effective implementation of existing legislation, including:

1. A detailed Annual Report from Gardaí on crimes involving racism

2. The systematic monitoring and reporting of cases involving racism by the Courts Service

3. Additional resources for the Gardaí and the training of ‘ethnic liaison officers’

4. Establishment of consultative forums across all Garda Divisions to liaise with minority communities

5. Initiatives to encourage reporting of crimes

6. Support for victims’ bodies including adequate training

7. The requirement for all local authorities to include policies to address racism in their strategic planning process.

The Deputy will appreciate that the majority of these recommendations have been implemented in the intervening period.

The Department keeps all legislation under review on an ongoing basis.

The review of the 1989 Act being conducted at present by my Department is designed to identify how our legislation on hate speech, including incitement to hatred, can be made fit for purpose in a modern democracy. This review is one part of a suite of measures which will include the development of new legislation on both hate speech and hate crime.

As part of the review, I launched a public consultation process on 24 October, which is open and will gather the views of communities, experts and all interested persons on how our incitement legislation should be changed to make it fit for purpose. Details of the consultation are available on my Department’s website. The consultation runs until 13 December 2019 and I encourage all those who wish to contribute to go to the Department’s website at www.justice.ie for further information.

Separately to the work on incitement, my Department is finalising research on the effectiveness of the different legislative approaches to tackling hate crime in other countries, in order to learn from experience elsewhere and use this information to identify the approach that will be most suitable for Ireland. When this research has concluded I will bring forward proposals for new hate crime legislation. These will be published and the views of experts, communities and the public will be taken into account.

This work is complemented by the work of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, who are preparing legislation in relation to the regulation of tech companies in respect of harmful content. This provision for a regulator to oversee online safety, which has been widely discussed and is in line with the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission Report. This legislation is where issues such as codes of conduct for tech companies, requirements to put measures in place to deal with harmful content and so forth will be dealt with.

The Deputy will appreciate that this is a complex area but the approach being taken - including research and providing the opportunity for experts and members of the public to provide their views through consultation - will help to ensure that the legislation we develop will deliver a safer, fairer and more inclusive Ireland for everyone.

Finally, alongside the criminal law, my Department has also been responsible for bringing forward a number of inclusion strategies which are designed to promote equality and inclusion and to tackle discrimination and prejudice.  These strategies include the Migrant Integration Strategy 2017-2020, the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, the LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018-2020 and the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020. We will shortly launch a National LGBTI+ Strategy. The Progress Report for the mid-term review of the Migrant Integration Strategy identified the need for strong actions to combat racism and these are currently being advanced.