Seanad debates

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Legislative Reviews

10:30 am

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for making time to come to the House. Political discourse, both here and abroad, is being degraded by a variety of groups and individuals who peddle messages of division and hatred that have no place in Irish culture. Several of the candidates in the recent elections ran campaigns based on messages of hate and fear that were designed to get attention and support for themselves, irrespective of the consequences of their message to individuals, the State or society. Indeed, since the elections, we have even seen a failed candidate who considers herself wiser than others, who came from the east, following a chemtrail in the sky and bearing a message of cold racism and slur, telling children from the midlands that there is no place for them at the inn because their skin is a different colour. Thankfully, the good people of Longford sent her back from whence where she came.

I ask the Minister of State to outline what is being done to review and strengthen the laws on hate crime, incitement and online hate speech. This problem is not unique to the Republic of Ireland. If one looks west, across the Atlantic, one will see a President who deliberately divided a nation for his own political purposes and who dismisses any criticism as fake news. Looking east across the Irish Sea, one can also see damage and division being created by individuals for their own political ends. North of the Border, Sinn Féin and the DUP are engaged in a discourse that is driven only by party-political agendas and interests. In the Republic, there are populists motivated by the desire for attention and electoral gain who will do or say anything to further their own self-interest. All of these people have a number of things in common. Their message is one of division, setting up one group against another on the basis of nationality, gender, sexuality, colour, religion, social class, political ideology or indeed any other perceived variant of otherness. They also all have simplistic answers and superficially appealing mantras including that someone else should pay, it is someone else's fault and that they bear no responsibility and so on. The other thing that these people have in common, whether they are right wing or left wing, is that they are not concerned about the interests of the people they supposedly represent. Their primary concern is to radicalise people behind their own cause or group or to draw attention or electoral support for themselves. Those of us in the middle must stand up to these extremists. We must counter their politics of division. Otherwise, as W.B. Yeats wrote:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator McFadden for raising this important issue. I also congratulate her on the presentation she has just made. It was very measured but very well researched and strong.

Safety, fairness and inclusion are at the heart of the work of the Department of Justice and Equality. The Minister and I are committed to ensuring that Ireland is a safe and secure country for everyone. This means working to find effective ways of protecting people from the effects of hate crime and hate speech and of signalling very clearly to perpetrators that hate crime and hate speech, whether they take place online or in the real world, are not tolerated or accepted here. There is already a significant body of criminal law in place to deal with hate crime and hate speech. The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 includes offences of incitement to hatred on account of race, religion, nationality, ethnic or sexual orientation. In brief, it is an offence to use words, behave, publish or distribute written material, or broadcast any visual images or sounds which are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or, having regard to all the circumstances, are likely to stir up hatred. In addition, where any criminal offence such as assault, criminal damage or a public order offence is committed against a person because of their race, religion, colour, ethnicity or some other prejudice, it can be prosecuted through the wider criminal law and the courts can consider evidence of a hate or prejudice motive as an aggravating factor at sentencing.

Of course, the criminal law must be kept under review. We must learn from our experiences of the implementation of the law in practice and from the experiences of other countries and we must ensure that the law keeps pace with developments in society. I am very conscious of recent calls from civil society, international bodies and others for reform of the legislation in this area. With that in mind, the Department of Justice and Equality has arranged for research to be carried out on the effectiveness of hate crime laws in other jurisdictions. This work will look at how other countries have legislated to deal with offences which are motivated by prejudice or hate and how effective those laws have been in practice. Separately, the Department is undertaking a review of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act. As part of this review, the Department will shortly carry out a public consultation on the Act and the results of this consultation together with wider policy analysis and review will inform proposals for changes to the Act which will be brought before this House for debate in due course.

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State. I am aware of the work that he does on this issue all of the time. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality in the previous Oireachtas term and know of his commitment in this area. I really welcome the fact that the Department has commissioned research, which will be invaluable. I also welcome the proposed public consultation and would urge Members of both Houses to work with that process.

Fine Gael is a party of unity, equality and opportunity.Those are the words on the wall in the room in which our parliamentary party meets. I would like us to create a society in which everybody is engaged in democracy for the betterment of that society. I welcome the response of the Minister of State. I pledge to work with him and I encourage others to do so too.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for her remarks and for the opportunity to discuss this very important matter. Hate crime means that vulnerable groups and individuals are targeted simply for who they are. The impacts of hate crime and hate speech are especially serious because they have a ripple effect that spreads far beyond the individual victim. If not dealt with, this can lead to a divided society in which entire communities feel unsafe. The serious nature of this behaviour means we must be especially careful to ensure that the legislation in place to deal with it is robust. The work being undertaken in the Department will help ensure any reform introduced is effective and reflects best practice internationally. I look forward to debating the matter with Senators when the legislation comes before the House.

Research on hate crime in other jurisdictions is likely to be completed later this year. The public consultation is due to go live very soon and I welcome the Senator's call for others to engage in it. Departmental officials will then consider the outcome of this work to determine the best approach to legislating in Ireland.

We welcome the fifth report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. In its report it highlights a number of positive developments in recent years. We will work to implement its recommendations, particularly the two priority recommendations on hate crime and Traveller accommodation.

When candidates use hate speech and hate crime in their canvassing, they are engaging in lazy politics. They are being populist and scapegoating others. This type of behaviour is shameful and I am glad that it has not taken hold or been successful here.

Sitting suspended at 10.55 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.