Senator Sharon Keogan has described the new Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2020 as “poisonous identity politics”. She made the comments in the Seanad on Tuesday 17 November while discussing the proposed updating of Ireland’s hate crime legislation.
Fianna Fáil senator Fiona O’Loughlin said the bill is an “important step forward in the pursuit of equality and justice for all our citizens”. And Senator David Norris called its introduction “timely” and “very necessary”.
Tackling hate crime in Ireland
O’Loughlin alongside Senators Lisa Chambers and Robbie Gallagher, originally introduced the bill. Senator O’Loughlin, reading it for a second time, argued that the aim of the bill is to “tackle hate crimes in an effective and robust manner”.
Referring to Ireland’s current hate crime legislation as “sadly lacking”, she insisted that the onus is on legislators to fix the issue. And that the updated legislation contained in the bill is a step towards this.
Highlighting the contents of the bill she argued:
It provides that a crime may be aggravated by hate if, at the time of committing the offence or immediately before or after doing so, a person displays prejudice and is motivated wholly or partly by racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-religious or anti-disability prejudice towards a relevant individual.
Senator Malcolm Byrne voiced his frustration that the bill “has not been given the priority it deserves” by the government. He said this is especially the case given that “3,800 written submissions were received in the consultation process relating to the legislation in this area”.
In voicing his support for the bill David Norris related his own experiences of hate crime as a gay man. He told his fellow senators that he’s received death threats and “had my lip split on my own front door”. Given this, he described the bill as “very timely”.
But some senators were more sceptical of the bill. Senator Keogan was sharply critical of it as well as the motivations behind its introduction. She called the bill “flawed” and “profoundly arbitrary and divisive”. Going further, she declared the bill to be “poorly drafted” and “ill-conceived nonsense on stilts”.
She went on to stress that the bill is “a manifestation of poisonous identity politics”. And she argued that the bill will “corrupt existing criminal law with this toxic, incoherent ideology for the sake of personal political gain”.
Rónán Mullen also voiced his opposition to the bill, saying it’s “flawed in its conception”. And he asserted that it would be“counterproductive in terms of shaping good law for our country”.
Racism in Ireland
Last year the UN criticised the government for not having appropriate hate crime legislation in place. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) pointed to “gaps in the existing anti-racial discrimination policy” in Ireland. CERD stated that the current Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act “has been ineffective to combat racist hate speech”.
Given this, it urged the state to:
Strengthen its legislation on racist hate speech with a view to effectively combating racist hate speech in all forms of expression and means of communication
In March the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) revealed that it received 530 reports of racism in 2019. This represented an increase of 140 compared to 2018. INAR also noted the increased presence of far-right websites which target minorities living in Ireland.
A 2019 report from the organisation also disclosed “high levels of racist violence against People of African Descent/Black Europeans in Ireland”.
Featured image via Oireachtas TV – Screenshot