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'Tough jail sentences needed for hate crime perpetrators'

Valerie Robinson Southern Correspondent newsdesk@irishnews.com

JUDGES should be given the power to impose tough prison sentences on anyone found guilty of hate crimes in the Republic, according to a new report.

The document, entitled '(A Life Free from Fear) Legislating for Hate Crime in Ireland: An NGO Perspective' and written by University of Limerick academics, called for new legislation that would allow a judge to take into account evidence of "hostility, prejudice, bias or hatred" when sentencing offenders.

Researchers also suggested that any new laws should allow for account incidents involving online hate crime.

The Republic has no legislation that deals directly with hate crime or violence motivated by hate.

Co-author Dr Amanda Haynes, who is linked to the university's Department of Sociology, said research had found that most cases involved people being targeted because of their sexuality, race, religion or if they had a disability. Prisoners and Travellers were also reported as being the focus for other people's prejudices.

Researchers used information provided by 14 non-governmental agencies (NGOs), with all but one revealing that hate crime was a problem encountered by the individuals they represented.

"Perpetrators of hate crime target minority and marginalised groups and have a particularly malign impact on the victim," Dr Haynes said.

Speaking at the Dublin launch yesterday, Labour senator Ivana Bacik said the report exposed the fact that hate crime was a "very real phenomenon" in today's Ireland and that the existing laws were "incapable" of addressing the problem.

In her foreword to the report, Ontario-based Professor Barbara Perry said the south's lack of hate crime laws was a "glaring anomaly in the European context and, indeed, across the West".

She warned that the state stood "virtually alone in its silence with respect to protecting vulnerable communities from the harms of this particular form of violence".

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