Tough new sentences for hate crimes are to be introduced by Justice Minister Helen McEntee.
ttacks on a person by reference to their race, ethnicity, sexual identification or orientation will all be aggravating factors under new legislation — as will vitriol or assault based on religion or disabilIty.
“We must get tough,” the Minister said. Ireland does not currently have any specific legislation to deal with hate crime.
The new and specific aggravated offences motivated by prejudice will come under a list of “protected characteristics”.
The new offences will carry tougher sentences than ordinary forms of crime, the Government has decided. But there are no specifics as yet, because the Bill has yet to be drafted.
The move comes against a background where some feel that existing punishments are not adequate. Former Arsenal and England soccer star Ian Wright expressed dismay recently that a young Kerry man who subjected him to repeated racist attacks on social media was not sent to jail on conviction by an Irish court.
Minister McEntee said: “Hate crimes tell the victim that they are not safe simply because of who they are. They send the disgusting message to victims that they and people like them are somehow lesser than the rest of us.”
She added: “These crimes are motivated by prejudice. They make victims feel afraid for their future, their friends and their families. They lead to a divided society, where whole communities can feel unsafe and angry.”
The protected characteristics under the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021 are: Race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability.
Minister McEntee declared: “We must get tough and show victims that we will recognise the true harm of these crimes. And perpetrators will know that we are determined to stamp out prejudice and hate.”
The lists had been updated from the 1989 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act to add gender – including gender expression or identity – and disability, and to ensure Traveller ethnicity is recognised on the same basis as other ethnicities.
The aggravated offences will “generally carry an enhanced penalty compared to the ordinary offence,” said a spokesman for the Minister.
The record of any such conviction will also clearly state that the offence was motivated by prejudice — that the perpetrator was guilty of a hate crime.
“Assault aggravated by prejudice will be a different and more serious offence to ordinary assault,” the spokesman said.
“Harassment aggravated by prejudice will be a separate and more serious offence to ordinary harassment.”
The person will be charged and prosecuted for the specific new offence, and if they are convicted, the record of their offence will show that it was a hate crime.
The kinds of crimes involved include assault, coercion, harassment, criminal damage, and threats to kill or cause serious harm or endangerment, as well as other offences.
But there will be provision for an alternative verdict, where the hate element of the offence has not been proven. In such cases, the person can be found guilty of the ordinary version of the offence.