New report says there is ‘cause for deep concern’ around the rise of online hate speech in Ireland

According to a new report Ireland needs to do more to tackle racism, hate crime, and hate speech. The Alternative Report on Racial Discrimination in Ireland declares that there needs to be “a more robust human rights structure around [fighting] racism”. It also argues that there “is a cause for deep concern” around online hate speech in Ireland.

The report goes on to highlight the fact that there are “high levels of racist violence against People of African Descent/Black Europeans in Ireland”. 

Fighting racism

The report was published by the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) and was submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). This coincides with CERD’s upcoming periodic assessment of Ireland. 

In the report INAR writes that it “provides the Committee information on the situation and concerns of civil society in Ireland”. As part of its research for the report, INAR accepted submissions from “NGOs, experts and members of the public” around Ireland. And it also carried out public consultations in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway. 

It points out that survey results have shown “positive attitudes in Ireland to immigration in Ireland are now lower than the Western European average”. As a result, it’s argued that the state needs to take a more active role in combating racism.

More precisely, INAR declares that:

There is a need for a more robust human rights structure around racism, to include a renewed and inclusive National Action Plan Against Racism, an independentagency [sic] with powers to oversee State action in this area and address racism through discrimination recording functions, publication of key statistics, training and coordination of high profile campaigns and events to address racism.

Hate crime

Part of this process, INAR states, must involve the introduction of new laws to tackle hate crime and hate speech. It’s written that:

we are concerned about the ongoing high levels of racist violence against People of African Descent / Black Europeans in Ireland.

INAR reveals that a 2016 EU-MIDIS survey

ranked Ireland (joint) highest among 12 EU member States with respect to racist physical attacks experienced by respondents from Sub-Saharan African backgrounds (21% compared to the group average of 9%).

And it’s also underlined that:

Fear of racist violence amongst People of African Descent in Ireland is high.

Online hate speech

However the report also notes that there has been an increase in online hate speech in recent years. And this, it’s insisted, “is a cause for deep concern”. INAR points to the fact that daily there are thousands of posts which consist of “anti-immigrant and anti-refugee content”. Such content includes “anti-Muslim ideas” such as references to “terrorism, a clash of civilisations, misogyny and sexual deviance”. And such posts have also called for the “erasure” of Traveller and Roma people. 

Yet, as INAR points out, hate speech is not illegal in Ireland even though there exists the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. The Act  makes it illegal “to publish, distribute or broadcast material” which encourages or stirs up hatred. But victims of racist attacks “have been largely unsuccessful” when trying to invoke the act in the aftermath of violence directed at them. 

Added to this is that the state has failed to implement Article 4 of the CERD. The Article

requires states [sic] parties to outlaw incitement to racial discrimination or violence, or the propagation of ideas of racial superiority, and to prohibit organisations that promote or incite discrimination.

As a result, the report contends that this has left

a lacuna into which nascent far-right movements in Ireland and their networks abroad are able to easily move and prompt widespread reproduction of hate content.

And, what’s more, the gardaí are not able to properly investigate issues of online hate speech. It’s contended that “the necessary resources” are lacking and there’s a “very limited capacity to deal with the wider issue of online hate speech”. However, the gardaí do actively monitor “the most extreme sources” of online hate speech. 

Solutions

INAR has recommended that the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act is updated to include online hate speech. The government has recently launched a public consultation on the Act. It has done this in order to

ensure that Ireland’s legislation on hate speech is fit for purpose and is effective in meeting the real needs of communities and individuals who experience the impacts of hate speech.

It has also called for people of African origin and descent to be included in any anti-racism strategy that the government proposes. The government, it’s argued, also needs to show “leadership” and introduce appropriate standards around the recording, investigation, and prosecution of hate crimes. INAR states that this will “bring Ireland into line with international good practice”. 

And it demands that racial profiling by the gardaí “must be prohibited immediately”.

A far-right threat

With the increasing visibility of the far right in Ireland, the findings of the INAR report are unsurprising. But they are still shocking. And because of this, it is important to ensure the safety of people who are targeted by the far right. The recommendations of the report will go some of the way to ensuring this. 

In the meantime though, the threat will continue to grow. And unless something is done about it soon, the government could very well have blood on its hands because of its inaction.

Featured image via INAR – Screenshot

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