I wish to recognise the interest and work of Deputies O'Loughlin and O'Callaghan in this important area, including Deputy O'Loughlin's co-sponsorship of a Private Members' Bill. It is important to clearly reflect that our law provides 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 is 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.
I acknowledge the work of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who is present, in this area. In order to ensure that any new legislation in this field is as robust and effective as possible, the Minister of State and I, along with our Department, are finalising research on the effectiveness of legislative approaches in other jurisdictions to tackling hate crime. This research will allow us to learn from experience elsewhere and identify the approach that will work best in Ireland. When the work concludes in the coming weeks, I plan to incorporate the learning from the research and 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 is aware, the Minister of State and I, through our Department, have been running a public consultation since October on the separate but related issue of incitement to hatred. The consultation will remain open until 13 December 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.