The National LGBT Federation (NXF) is glad to report that the long-awaited Hate Offences Bill - which will finally bring Ireland in line with the rest of Europe in having specific Hate Crime legislation - was moved forward by Government in recent weeks. It will also update our laws against Incitement to Hatred.
For the LGBTQ+ community, who have witnessed a hugely disturbing spate of violent, hate-driven attacks in recent times, there is a clear demand for effective legislation as part of a wider whole-of-society response against the scourge of hate and extremism. It has certainly been a leading legislative demand for the NXF since our own Burning Issues research identified it as a key community concern as far back as 2016.
LGBTQ+ people know only too well that this is not an abstract or theoretical debate. Its why, for example, the NXF and LGBT+ Ireland, amongst others, support the addition of a ‘demonstration’ as well as ‘motivation’ test, to ensure that hate offences can be effectively prosecuted and do not suffer from the same widely recognised deficiencies that characterised the soon to be repealed and replaced 1989 Incitement to Hatred Act.
We also welcome the fact that the Bill explicitly covers online hate, the proliferation of which is having real world consequences. Allied with the Online Safety Bill, we hope that this signals a real determination to tackle the ‘wild west’ nature of the online world and a failed policy of ‘self-regulation’. There is also, of course, a hugely important EU dimension in holding Big Tech platforms to account, as bad actors seek to use them to spread hate and misinformation.
Crucially, the Bill is fully LGBTQ+ inclusive. In addition to sexual orientation, it also protects those targeted on account of their gender identity or expression. Sex characteristics have also been inserted to ensure that intersex people are covered under the new legal regime.
We do believe that key definitions in the Bill can be made more robust and agree with expert testimony presented at a recent Council of Europe Hate Crime event in Dublin that terms such as ‘hate’ and ‘hatred’ should be more clearly defined in the legislation. However, while wishing to avoid excessive vagueness and subjective interpretations, we also do not want an overly proscriptive approach.
Comprehensive training for those tasked with enforcing the provisions is another crucial element in ensuring that the new laws deliver for victims of criminal hate. Indeed, the importance of effective training and education for policing and law enforcement was one of the key takeaways from the Council of Europe Roundtable on combatting LGBTQ+-related Hate Crime. This is all the more important when, according to the Council of Europe, just 14 percent of LGBTQ+ victims of hate offences across the continent currently make a report.
With that in mind, the NXF was keen to re-enforce the point that state agencies are not ‘neutral’ or ‘impartial’ observers in such matters and need to be constantly looking at ways to be more proactive in visibly supporting LGBTQ+ people and boosting community confidence and engagement.
Some will attempt to obfuscate and muddy the waters by framing the Bill as part of a wider – and largely imported – ‘culture war’ agenda rather than the actual reality of ensuring that Hate Crime can be properly tackled.
Legislators in particular must not allow themselves to be sidetracked by such false narratives that have little to do with the substantive issues at stake.
For the LGBTQ+ community, passage of this Bill is a pressing priority.
Another important development this month has been the launch of a Public Consultation into how best the State can right the grave historical wrong that was the pre-1993 criminalisation of gay people.
We had the official State Apology to our community in 2018. We now need to ensure that anyone convicted of ‘crimes’ under these homophobic laws can have them fully disregarded.
Indeed, this Disregard Scheme should be seen as part of a wider process involving the Irish State ‘atoning’ for decades of repressive practices where church and state worked together in creating an Ireland that was a cold house for women and LGBTQ+ citizens in particular.