Tuesday, 17 May 2005
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform
I share the concern of the Deputy and this House, and that of the public in general, about attacks on members of the gay community and other minority groups in the community. Article 40.1 of the Constitution states: "All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law".
I am informed by the Garda authorities that they are satisfied that the areas frequented by members of the gay and lesbian community are being adequately policed. The policing requirements in these areas are reviewed on an ongoing basis to enable a response to any particular eventuality should the need arise.
I am further informed by the Garda authorities that they have for several years maintained a positive relationship with the gay community. They are in regular contact with those who represent the gay perspective on a variety of issues.
I also understand that 14 gardaí have received special familiarisation training and have been appointed as liaison officers to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. These gardaí are based in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, Galway, Longford, Westmeath, Louth and also in the Garda domestic violence and sexual assault unit and community relations section.
The Garda authorities have also established a national advisory panel, which includes members who represent the gay perspective, to assist and inform gardaí on matters relating to their community.
With regard to hate crime more generally, the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, created an offence of, inter alia, using words or behaviour, if the words or behaviour are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended, or are likely, to stir up hatred.
"Hatred" is defined as hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation. Public incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offence under sections 2 and 3 of the 1989 Act in terms of material, written or oral, which is threatening, abusive or insulting.
The announcement of a review of the incitement to hatred legislation was made by my predecessor as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at a time when few, if any, successful prosecutions had been taken under the Act. One of the aims of the review was to ascertain whether problems with the Act itself were contributing to this lack of prosecutions and, if so, whether any reasonable changes to it could remedy that situation. Since the review was announced, a number of successful prosecutions have been taken under the 1989 Act. These trends are being monitored as part of the ongoing review and if maintained could have a significant influence on the outcome of the review and any subsequent proposals for legislation.
Apart from the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 is the main relevant legislative instruments pertaining to hate crime. That Act created an offence of using or engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place. It also created an offence of distributing or displaying in a public place, material which is threatening, abusive, insulting or obscene.