LGBTQ+ inclusive hate crime legislation to be brought to Cabinet by Easter

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee launched findings of wide-ranging consultation which received over 3,600 submissions this morning.

LGBTQ+ hate crime

Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, has today launched the findings from the public consultation on Hate Speech and Hate Crime. She also announced her intention to bring forward new legislation, which includes provisions for LGBTQ+ hate crime, in Ireland in early 2021.

These plans follow a thorough consideration of over 3,600 submissions (more than 175 of which were detailed written submissions) to a public consultation, and in-depth consultation with various civil society and community groups, academics and experts.

The purpose of the consultation was to ensure the Department could identify how Ireland’s law in this area could be improved, based on a clear understanding the experiences of those impacted by hate speech and hate crime.

The Minister said that many of those who participated in the consultation have been victims themselves, while others are concerned about the very real need to respect the human rights of everyone involved, including the right to freedom of speech so that the new legislation is proportionate, as well as effective in achieving its aims.

Launching the findings of the consultation, Minister McEntee said:

“A key element of this consultation was gaining an understanding of the lived experience of victims of hate crime and hate speech who have been targeted because of something innate to them, that they cannot change, like their race, their sexuality or their disability.

“Many of those who participated have been victims themselves and what we have learned is that victims of hate crime are made to feel afraid for the future, not just for themselves but for their friends, their loved ones, their children. This type of fear can lead to a more divided society, where whole communities can feel unsafe.

“This consultation is a really useful contribution toward the development of new criminal legislation to deal with hate crime and incitement to hatred. I intend to bring the Heads of a Bill to Cabinet by Easter 2021.”

The conclusions of the consultation (outlined below), together with the Department’s research on the effectiveness of legislative approaches internationally will now be used to develop the General Scheme of a new Hate Crime Bill. This new legislation will be just one element in a wide suite of measures across all areas of Government, which are designed to address hatred and intolerance.

The new law will cover both incitements to hatred and hate crime. The new hate crime offences will be aggravated versions of existing crimes, for example, offences against the person, criminal damage or public order offences, where they are carried out because of prejudice against a protected characteristic.

Creating these new offences will mean that a crime can be investigated as a potential hate crime by GardaĂ­, and evidence of the hate element can be presented in court. Where the jury finds that the crime was a hate crime based on the evidence, and convicts the person of a hate crime, the enhanced penalty for the new offence will available to the judge at sentencing. Where the jury finds that the hate element is not proven, they will still be able to convict the person of the ordinary form of the offence.

Speaking about the development of the legislation, Minister McEntee said,

“As Minister for Justice, I am determined to tackle these crimes and to ensure that those who seek to divide our communities and spread hatred and fear, including online, are dealt with effectively by our criminal justice system. I want perpetrators to know that their crimes will be reported, investigated and prosecuted.

“There is no place for hate crime in our society. The legislation will deal with situation where perpetrators seek to incite other people to hatred from behind the protection of a screen or an anonymous account. This is an important factor in order for this legislation to be as effective as possible in tackling all forms of hate speech.

“Regarding the fundamental constitutional right of freedom of expression, I want to assure people that this legislation will be proportionate, specific, and clear, with offences capable of being proven beyond reasonable doubt. There will be no confusion as to what constitutes criminal hate speech.

“It is my hope we will develop a strong and effective legislative infrastructure to help tackle this serious form of crime which will also be evidence-based while respecting important rights to freedom of expression and association.”

Finally, Minister McEntee addressed those who have been affected by hate crime in Ireland.

“I want anyone who is a victim of hate crime to know that it is safe for them to come forward and report these crimes. I want them to know that there are professional, trained GardaĂ­ available to speak to them and that they will be treated with care and understanding and their complaint will be treated seriously and followed up by An Garda Siochana.”

The Irish LGBTQ+ community has long called for hate crime legislation. Dr Patrick McDonagh wrote about the journey so far highlighting a July 2018 report by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties which “worryingly revealed that Ireland has the highest rates of hate crime against people of African background and transgender people in the European Union.”

The Report of the consultation, which includes a strand specifically on LGBTQ+ hate crime, is published on the Department’s website here. You can find out more about how legislation passes through the Oireachtas and even view the debates live on oireachtas.ie

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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