Ireland is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and review of the State’s performance before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination took place last week in Geneva. The State was represented at the Committee by a cross-Departmental group led by Minister of State Stanton. Ireland’s national statement to the Committee was delivered by Minister Stanton at the outset of the review and, in the course of the Committee hearing, further detail on Ireland’s actions in this important area were set out in exchanges with the Committee. I take it the Deputy is referring to the exchanges as part of that review.
I can confirm that my Department is working to update Ireland’s criminal law on both hate speech and hate crime as a priority.
It is important to note that our law already includes provision for prosecution of relevant crimes. Under current law, hate crimes are prosecuted under general criminal law, rather than through a specific 'hate crime' offence. Where a perpetrator has been found guilty of a crime, such as for example assault or criminal damage, a sentencing judge may consider a hate motive to be an aggravating factor that would increase the sentence.
With a view to ensuring that any new legislation in this field is as robust and effective as possible, my Department is currently finalising research on the effectiveness of different legislative approaches to tackling hate crime in other countries. This research will allow us to learn from experience elsewhere and to identify the approach that will work best in Ireland.
When this work has concluded, which I expect to happen within the coming weeks, I plan to incorporate the learning from the research and then bring forward proposals for new hate crime legislation in the new year. These proposals will be published for discussion and an opportunity will be given to experts, communities and the public to share their views.
As the Deputy may be aware, my Department has also been running a public consultation on the separate but related issue of incitement to hatred since October, to gather the views of all stakeholders on how our laws should deal with those who actively seek to promote and encourage hatred and prejudice against vulnerable groups. The consultation remains open until 13 December and I encourage all those who wish to contribute to go to the Department’s website at http://www.justice.ie for further information.
The Deputy will appreciate that it is important that complex legislative measures are well researched and evidence-based. Development of new criminal law in this area is a priority for me as Minister but it is important to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is protected; that any new law is necessary and proportionate; and importantly that any law adopted is effective in practice in dealing with the very real harms caused by hate speech and hate crime.
The Deputy may also wish to be aware that my Department is leading on a number of cross-Government initiatives to tackle racism in Ireland.
The Migrant Integration Strategy published in 2017 sets out the Government's commitment to the promotion of migrant integration and provides a framework for a wide range of actions to support migrants to participate fully in Irish life. It includes actions to promote intercultural awareness and to combat racism and xenophobia - including review of legislation concerning racially motivated crime and hate speech. The Progress Report for the mid-term review of the Migrant Integration Strategy was published earlier this year by my Department and work continues across Government as a whole to achieve its goals.
In relation to the justice sector and in addition to the steps outlined above, my colleague Minister of State David Stanton is in the process of establishing a new Anti-Racism Committee which will include representatives of the public, private and voluntary sectors. This Committee will have a mandate to examine what needs to be done by public sector bodies as well as the wider community to challenge racism.
An Garda Síochána have also taken a number of important steps recently, consistent with the Migrant Integration Strategy. A Diversity and Integrity Strategy has been adopted, including a working definition of hate crime to assist Gardaí in delivering a victim-centred service and ensure that Gardaí respond consistently and robustly to reports of hate crime.
I am confident that 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.