UL report highlights Hate crime as major concern for Irish NGOs

A report by University of Limerick academics ‘A Life Free From Fear’ Legislating for Hate Crime in Ireland: An NGO Perspective has been launched in Dublin by Senator Ivana Bacik. The report outlines the true extent of hate crime in Ireland today and how it affects many communities. Report authors Jennifer Schweppe (School of Law), Dr Amanda Haynes and Dr James Carr (Department of Sociology) present the experiences and perspectives of NGOs who deal on a regular basis with the challenge of hate crime, and provide an analysis of the efficacy of Irish legislation in combating hate crime.

Speaking at the launch, Senator Ivana Bacik stated: “The Life Free from Fear Report shows that hate crime is a very real phenomenon in Ireland today, which effects a multiplicity of communities. People are targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender, including gender identity, race, religion, disability, age, ethnicity, including membership of the Traveller Community and sometimes for a combination of these personal characteristics. The report shows that the current legal regime is incapable of addressing hate crime, and that legislative change is required. Crucially, the report also presents useful proposals for the appropriate legislative model, and this is particularly welcome”.

All but one of the NGOs who participated in the Report stated that hate crime is a specific issue of concern for the individuals and groups for whom they advocate. The majority of NGO participants identified their clients' experiences of hate crime as being associated primarily with either racism against ethnic and racialised minorities, and migrants broadly, or homophobic and transphobic hate towards LGBT persons. The types of hate incident identified by NGOs included physical violence, sexual abuse, verbal abuse and harassment. Hate crime is understood as a 'message crime', that is, its function is to send a message, not only to the direct victim, but also to the group, on the basis of whose membership they were targeted. As such, hate crime has multiple indirect victims, in addition to those directly victimised.

The Absence of Hate Crime Legislation

In her foreword to the Report, Professor Barbara Perry of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, leading world expert on hate crime, states: “The absence of hate crime legislation in Ireland is a glaring anomaly in the European context, and indeed, across the West. Without it, Ireland stands virtually alone in its silence with respect to protecting vulnerable communities from the harms of this particular form of violence.”

The report presents a proposal for legislative change which seeks to address this lacuna in Irish law. Speaking at the launch of the report, Jennifer Schweppe, lecturer in law, said, “It is without question that the lack of legislation in Ireland in the area of hate crime leads to what has been described internationally as ‘permission to hate’. It is unacceptable for the State to hide behind the cloak of judicial sentencing discretion, in the expectation that any hate crime will be dealt with more severely by a judge. The current legislative position is simply unacceptable, leading to the further victimisation and ‘othering’ of often already marginalised communities. Legislating for hate crime in Ireland is no longer optional, but a necessity.”

Speaking at the launch, Dr Amanda Haynes said: “Perpetrators of hate crime target minority and marginalised groups and have a particularly malign impact on the victim. In addition to the impact of the crime itself, victims are also forced to face the perpetrator's hostility towards them on the basis of personal characteristics which may be fundamental to their sense of self. They may wonder how they protect themselves from repeat victimisation if they are being targeted because of who they are. For the wider community, the knowledge that people are being targeted because of their group memberships, promotes the sense that victims are interchangeable – ‘any member of the group will do’. Hate crimes have a ripple effect, spreading fear beyond the direct victim and into the wider community”.