Limerick academics to present hate crime research to Oireachtas Joint Committee

University of Limerick. Picture: Alan Place/FusionShooters.

TWO leading University of Limerick academics are to present their extensive research into hate crime in Ireland to an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice.

Professor Amanda Haynes and Dr Jennifer Schweppe, co-directors of the European Centre for the Study of Hate at UL, will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice this Wednesday.

They have been invited to speak to the Committee on the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021 based on their expertise in this area, and extensive experience researching how hate crimes manifest in Ireland and are addressed through the Irish criminal justice process.

The research of Professor Haynes and Dr Schweppe has shown consistently that hate crime legislation is required in Ireland, and the UL academics welcome the publication of the General Scheme and the opportunity to address the committee during its pre-legislative scrutiny.

Dr Jennifer Schweppe, a senior lecturer in law at UL, explained: “In our research we have consistently shown that the absence of hate crime legislation in Ireland has led to what we refer to as the ‘disappearing’ of the hate element of a crime through the criminal process.

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“We have also found that courts have treated offences as racially aggravated in the absence of any evidence that racism was involved in the commission of the offence. In legislating against hate crime, we believe that we must take a cautious and incremental approach.

“For hate crime legislation to be effective, it must be accompanied by a scaffolding of supports to ensure that it is implemented properly. In the absence of such implementation measures, it is almost inevitable that it will fail.”

Professor Amanda Haynes, an associate professor of sociology at UL, continued: “In legislating against hate crime, we must strike a balance between the need to ensure that the ‘message’ element of a hate crime is leveraged on the one hand, but also ensure that the potential exclusionary effects of a conviction for hate crime are borne in mind on the other.

“In our research with Professor Ross Macmillan here at the University of Limerick, we have shown in a survey of the general population that labelling an individual a ‘hate criminal’ is likely to prove an additional impediment to securing employment, as well as their acceptance and integration into the wider community.

“This, we believe, should be a determining consideration in shaping legislation in addressing hate crime.”

Dr Schweppe added: “The legislation also amends legislation prohibiting incitement to hatred. While it is accepted that the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 requires some work, we believe that in the context of legislation which limits free speech, provisions should be narrowly and carefully drawn.

“We should not have large numbers of convictions under that legislation, and consideration should be given to simply amending the existing legislation rather than repealing it and replacing it.”

Professor Haynes concluded: “We must learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions and draw on international best practice, but equally recognise the need to adapt those lessons to an Irish context, and ensure legislation in this country is appropriate for our legal, policy, and social contexts.”