Public understanding of hate crimes under the microscope in Limerick study

The main building at the University of Limerick.

A MAJOR new cross-border study has found that a majority of people on the island of Ireland view hate crimes as a “serious and growing problem” in their area.

The study, ‘Public Understandings of Hate Crime: Ireland, North and South project’, a collaborative work between researchers at University of Limerick (UL) and Queen’s University Belfast, was based on survey findings from 2,000 people both north and south of the border.

The research was carried out by Professors Amanda Haynes and Jennifer Schweppe of UL’s European Centre for the Study of Hate, Professor Ross MacMillan of UL’s Department of Sociology, and Dr Kevin J Brown of Queen’s School of Law.

The study found that the majority of responders in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland believe hate crime to be a serious problem, with a perception that hate crime is increasing on the island as a whole.

It also asserted that the general public “understand the direct and indirect harms of hate crime”, with the majority of the public appreciating the fact that hate crimes are more likely to have a “psychological effect on their victims and that hate crimes spread fear and isolation among minority communities”.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

In the Republic of Ireland, researchers found, just 30 percent of respondents felt that An Garda Síochána respond effectively to hate crime, while 22 per cent agreed that the courts respond effectively.

This stood slightly higher than 18 per cent of those in Northern Ireland saying the PSNI effectively responded to hate crime, whle 20 per cent had faith in the courts responses.

The study also found that there are gaps in public understanding surrounding current hate crime legislation, while less than a fifth of those surveyed said they were of the view that punishing hate crimes more severely than non-hate crimes is a “violation of freedom of expression”.

Speaking about the findings, Professor Jennifer Schweppe said: “For the first time internationally, the stigma of a conviction for a crime with an associated hate element was measured – people are less likely to employ someone with a conviction for a hate crime and less likely to welcome them into their neighbourhood. This is something that legislators must consider when introducing or amending legislation as we are proposing to do on the island.”

Dr Kevin J Brown added: “The public perceive current responses to hate to be inadequate and are supportive of changes to allow authorities to more effectively tackle hate. This report provides convincing evidence in support of implementing balanced reforms to challenge hate on both sides of the border.”

The research also measured levels of prejudice against individuals due to their racialised identity, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender identity, disability, and community background, as well as other commonly targeted identities.