Human rights group calls on government to strengthen hate speech laws and tackle garda racial profiling

Human rights group calls on government to strengthen hate speech laws and tackle garda racial profiling

A new report has pointed to “negative attitudes” members of the gardaí hold toward minorities in Ireland as well as accounts of racial profiling carried out by members of the force. It comes in a report published by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) which lays out shortcomings across major sectors in Ireland such as policing and the media. The authors made 130 recommendations to the government on how to tackle racism and discrimination in Irish society. 

Included in this are increased human rights and equality training for gardaí and “the need for both legislative and non-legislative measures to combat hate crime and hate speech”. 

Mobilising

The IHREC published the report Developing a National Action Plan Against Racism earlier today. According to the IHREC it’ll submit the report to the government’s Anti-Racism Committee on Thursday 16 September. The committee is itself tasked with developing Ireland’s National Action Plan Against Racism as advised by the European Commission.

In opening the report lays out the difficulty of tackling racism in Ireland.

It argues that it’s a “challenge” that’ll “require mobilisation across Irish society, including ensuring that anti-racism is an explicit priority in all relevant legislation, public policy, budgets, public body and data development”. To achieve this it calls for anti-racism to be a “priority” across all levels of the education system. And it also needs to “be a priority in the workplace and across the professions, where diversification is needed to reflect Ireland’s changing population”.

“Negative attitudes”

The IHREC report also notes issues with how An Garda Síochána deals with discrimination and racism within its ranks. It highlights “negative attitudes amongst Garda members towards minority ethnic groups”. Added to this are “reports of racial profiling” by gardaí. Such behaviour, as the report points out, “does not explicitly constitute a breach of” garda regulations. There are also “Concerns” about the ability of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) to look into allegations of racial profiling. 

To combat this the IHREC repeats the call of human rights groups which insist that the government clearly define racial profiling and make it illegal. It also argues there should be “an independent complaints mechanism” when it comes to cases of alleged racial profiling and “oversight mechanisms” both internal and external to the gardaí.

Hate crime and hate speech

Along similar lines the report also suggests more to be done to tackle hate crime and hate speech.

It’s argued that “both legislative and non-legislative measures” are needed to deal with the issue. This is because “While criminal sanctions are necessary for condemning severe forms of hate speech, the human sentiment of hatred cannot be eliminated by legal prohibition alone”. But with “the escalation in incidents of far-right rhetoric and racist hate crime”, the IHREC recommends the government prioritise the updating of Ireland’s hate speech laws. 

It also insists that the media have a role to play. The IHREC maintains it’s “crucial” that the media doesn’t spread “information which could have the effect of promoting intolerance”. To accomplish this it “encourages the use of self-regulation”, such as adherence to codes of ethics, in order to ensure “any control over freedom of expression is as limited as possible”. 

Politicians, political candidates, and public figures should also play “a crucial role” in combatting intolerance. The report underscores the link between such groups using “exclusionary language” and hate crime. To that end the report proposes that the government introduce the use of codes of conduct for such public figures “which clearly prohibit the use or endorsement of hate speech”. 

In December 2019 the UN called on Ireland to do more to tackle hate crime and hate speech. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) told Irish representatives in Geneva the state must “Strengthen its legislation” when it comes to dealing with racism. Last year the government published a draft of the new Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2020. 

But some have criticised the bill. Speaking in the Seanad in November 2020, Senator Sharon Keogan described the proposed legislation as “a manifestation of poisonous identity politics”. She was joined in her criticism by Senator Rónán Mullen who called the bill “counterproductive”. 

Featured image via Pexels

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