The Deputy will be aware that the Government is fully committed to the fight against racism, prejudice and bigotry, and strongly condemns the actions of those who abuse and attack others, because of their own prejudices against a person’s religion, ethnic origins, sexual orientation or any other part of their identity as a human being. Ireland is a diverse and tolerant country, and such behaviour is not acceptable.
Under the Programme for Government there is a commitment to:
- Introduce the Hate Crime legislation within 12 months of the formation of the Government. It is intended that this legislation will create specific offences to ensure that those who target victims because of their association with a particular identity characteristic are identified as perpetrators of hate crime. This legislation will be on the basis of an aggravated offences model, and will be supported by training across the criminal justice system, as well as victim supports.
- Publish a new national action plan against racism.
In relation to the first commitment, I recently announced my intention to bring forward new legislation to combat incitement to hatred and hate crime in Ireland. This announcement followed on from the publication of the results of a widespread consultation process, which included in-depth consultations with various civil society and community groups, academics and experts, a public consultation process and a detailed comparative study of approaches to hate crime in 5 other jurisdictions.
The purpose of this extensive work was to ensure my Department could identify how Ireland’s law in this area could be improved, based on a clear understanding of the experiences of those impacted by hate speech and hate crime.
The Deputy will be able to see from the report and the appendices that many of those who engaged in the consultation process were victims of hate speech and hate crime themselves, while others were concerned about the very real need to respect the human rights of everyone involved, including the right to freedom of speech.
The report and its appendices are available on - http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Legislating_for_Hate_Speech_and_Hate_Crime_in_Ireland_Web.pdf/Files/Legislating_for_Hate_Speech_and_Hate_Crime_in_Ireland_Web.pdf
I have tasked my officials with drawing on the conclusions of the Report to draft the General Scheme of a new Hate Crime Bill, which will deal with both incitement to hatred and hate crime. It is my intention to bring the General Scheme to Government before Easter of this year. The new legislation will provide the necessary means to prosecute perpetrators who deliberately or recklessly incite hatred against others on the basis of a protected characteristic, while bearing in mind the provisions of the Constitution and our human rights obligations including those contained in the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 to protect the right to freedom of expression. It is my intention to publish the General Scheme of this Bill before Easter.
In relation to the second mentioned Programme for Government commitment, my Department established an independent Anti-Racism Committee chaired by Professor Caroline Fennell (UCC Professor of Law and Commissioner with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission). The Committee is tasked with producing a draft national action plan against racism in accordance with the Programme for Government Commitments within one year. Following on from the transfer of functions, which saw equality matters moved from my Department to Department of Children, Equality, Integration and Youth, the committee provided an interim report to Minister O’Gorman at the end of November.
The Committee comprises people from diverse backgrounds from the business, education, local government, academic and advocacy sector, including those with lived experience of racism and it will examine all forms of racism in Ireland.
I am confident that the approach being taken by Government to these commitments - including research and providing the opportunity for experts and members of the public to provide their views - will help to ensure that the legislation and strategies we develop to combat racism and incitement to hatred will deliver a safer, fairer and more inclusive Ireland for everyone, now as well as into the future.