Garda takes steps against hate crime
March 29, 2013 for Metro Èireann
Despite an anecdotal rise in hate crimes in Ireland, most of these incidences are not being recorded, which is skewing the statistics – and prompting calls for Government to provide greater support.
Although the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 makes it an offence to single out certain groups of people for abuse in a manner likely to stir up hatred, there is still no formal legislation that expressly allows for racist motives to be taken into account as aggravating circumstances when sentencing criminals.
Indeed, there have been only five convictions under the act in the 24 years since it was made law.
According to Sgt Dave McInerney of the Garda Racial Intercultural and Diversity Unit, if a victim of any alleged crime feels the motive for the offence was because of some racial bias, then the event must be recorded as a racist incident.
“We usually work on fact; what did or did not happen according to evidence,” said Sgt McInerney. “This is the only case in which perception enters into our reports.”
However, while gardaí are instructed to record any racist motives, it is at the court’s discretion whether to take such motives into account during sentencing.
In November 2012, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter stated he has no plans for legislation related to hate crime. But without clear laws, those committing hate crimes are far more likely to be convicted only of assault charges and receive more lenient sentencing as a result.
Moreover, it is presumed that many victims refuse to report hate crimes against themselves, whether from a belief that gardaí will do nothing, fear of retaliation, or shame over the incident.
“In order to protect people, we must first know of the problem,” said Sgt McInerney. “To keep it silent is to compound the problem.”
An Garda Síochána employs 311 ethnic liaison officers in stations across Ireland, who are charged with training gardaí on cultural sensitivity as well as running the Victim Support Service to get help to people who need it.
“This is all new to us, but we have to get it right,” said Sgt McInerney of the hate crime support initiative. “We’ve witnessed other countries and the extreme racism they have had and how they deal with it. So there is no excuse for us to get it wrong.”