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Crackdown Justice Minister Helen McEntee says new hate crime laws will be introduced in 2021

The legislation will make it a criminal offence to ‘deliberately or recklessly’ incite hatred and will include social media posts.

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Justice minister Helen McEntee said existing hate crime laws had resulted in very few prosecutions (Niall Carson/PA)

Justice minister Helen McEntee said existing hate crime laws had resulted in very few prosecutions (Niall Carson/PA)

Justice minister Helen McEntee said existing hate crime laws had resulted in very few prosecutions (Niall Carson/PA)

Justice minister Helen McEntee is to bring forward new hate crime laws in the new year, saying existing legislation was “not fit for purpose”.

She said the new laws would target the perpetrators of hate crime and hate speech, who “deliberately or recklessly” incited hatred against a person or community based on a protected characteristic.

They would also make it an offence to distribute material inciting hatred, which could include the sharing of social media posts.

New protections would be introduced for people who were discriminated against based on their gender, gender identity or disability.

Ms McEntee said: “What we’re not trying to do here is prevent free speech, we’re not trying to stifle public debate, we’re not trying to prevent political discussion from happening.

“What we are trying to do is first and foremost acknowledge that hate speech and hate crime exist in this country, and that they cause serious harm to individuals, to different groups of people, and it simply can’t be tolerated.”

Under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 it is an offence to create or distribute racist, homophobic or other discriminatory materials.

Offenders face a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of €10,000.

This is not about someone causing offence to somebody else or misspeaking maybe. We're talking about an intention or a recklessness to incite hatred against one individual or a group of peopleJustice minister Helen McEntee

But Ms McEntee has said the existing laws have resulted in very few prosecutions.

She said: “It’s not easily prosecutable and really, there are very few people that have been prosecuted since 1989.

“So we need legislation that is clear, that will ensure that the guards, the judiciary and the legal system, that each and every one of us are very clear about what is acceptable and what’s not.”

A public consultation has clearly identified that the 1989 legislation “is not fit for purpose”, Ms McEntee said.

The minister said the exact wording of the legislation would have to be worked out, but that it would apply to the most serious of cases.

“This is not about someone causing offence to somebody else or misspeaking maybe. We’re talking about an intention or a recklessness to incite hatred against one individual or a group of people,” she added.

The new laws would also cover material posted on social media, and people who shared material designed to incite hatred.

“If somebody knows that what they’re passing on is criminal content, it doesn’t matter whether they’re reposting something or not, it’s still criminal content,” she said.

The minister stressed that the legislation must be very clear so that Gardai were not bombarded with complaints about social media posts.

“What you don’t want is, within a matter of weeks of being enacted, thousands of people who have maybe seen a post or a comment, or have taken offence or who fundamentally disagree with another person, trying to press charges and going to the Gardai,” she said.

“So it’s important that we communicate this properly to the public, that’s why this public consultation is really important.”

She added: “It hasn’t been brought to my attention that there will be a requirement for huge additional resources, but obviously if that’s something that transpires as this develops, we will of course take that on board.”

Draft legislation is to go before the Cabinet by April 2021. It follows a public consultation which received over 3,600 submissions from stakeholders.

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