The Law and Racist Crime

Racism is criminal. However, in Ireland legislation to prevent and combat racist violence and crime is not as clear, strong or effective as it could be.

Racism needs to be explicitly recognised as a crime. The challenge is to develop the legislative framework to effectively deal with issues experienced on the ground, as there is a clear gap between needs expressed by NGOs, those experiencing racism and the measures that are in place to deal with them.

ENAR Ireland believes that the Irish Government should take immediate steps to review and update the prosecution and sentencing of racist crime in Ireland.  There is currently no provision within Irish legislation to deal with racist crime. It is at the discretion of judges to consider racist motive as a factor when determining a sentence in a case. Making racism a crime not only secures justice for the victims, but sends a clear message that racism is not acceptable in Irish society.

 In 2010, ENAR Ireland held a seminar titled, Racist Crime: Issues, Opportunities and the EU Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia’.

The seminar highlighted the obligation on the State to transpose the EU Framework Decision to combat racism and xenophobia and resulting opportunities. It provided the space for NGOs, officials and other relevant stakeholders including legal experts, to discuss and debate issues related to racist and xenophobic crime. It identified relevant issues at the national level with regard to racist crime as well as difficulties and limitations in the existing legal framework.

There were diverse views on Ireland’s current capacity to deal with racism through criminal law and on how best to do this. Different opinions were evident on the extent to which Ireland complies with or is ready to transpose the EU Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia. The session highlighted limitations of existing and emerging legislation. It identified issues in relation to the application of racially aggravated sentencing where discretionary powers exist. The Framework Decision itself is a limited instrument but the purpose of the seminar was to see how we can get the maximum effect from a limited instrument.

A point that emerged is the need to go beyond both of these instruments and the seminar provided a space to have that timely debate and discussion. Part of the problem is that we have awaited the Framework Decision and a review of the 1989 Act in order to actually look to the gaps that people are concerned about. There are issues that the Framework Decision and incitement to hatred legislation might address but there are other issues also. However, we need to ensure that while the instruments are limited, that they are implemented as well as possible.

“All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to stand by and do nothing”

Edmund Burke