Northern Ireland

Hate crime a 'growing problem' across Ireland, new cross-border study finds

Racist graffiti scrawled on a shop shutter in south Belfast. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA
Racist graffiti scrawled on a shop shutter in south Belfast. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA

HATE crime is a "serious and growing problem" on both sides of the Irish border, a new study has found.

The research was carried out by academics from Queen's University Belfast and the University of Limerick (UL) and was part-funded under the Shared Island initiative.

Titled Public Understandings of Hate Crime: Ireland, North and South, the study found that out of 2,000 people, a majority in both jurisdictions believe hate crime to be a rising threat.

A majority perceive current responses to tackling hate crime to be ineffective, with only 18% of the public surveyed in the north believing that the PSNI respond effectively to hate crime, whilst only 20% believe that the courts respond effectively.

In the Republic, 30% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that An Garda Síochána respond to hate crime effectively, with 22% agreeing that the courts respond effectively to the issue.

There is a high level of public support both north and south for the protection of a broad range of characteristics under hate crime legislation, while a majority agree that hate crimes spread cause fear and feelings of isolation among minority communities.

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The study also uncovered gaps in the public's understanding, with a majority in the north incorrectly believing that a hate crime will be recorded as such on an individual’s criminal record.

Professor Jennifer Schweppe, Professor of Law at UL and co-director of the European Centre for the Study of Hate, commented: “This research is timely in showing public support for the inclusion of marginalised groups in the scope of the protection of hate crime legislation generally, and it is particularly heartening to see such public support for the inclusion of transgender people in hate crime legislation.

“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 Brown from the School of Law at Queen’s said: “This survey, the first of its kind on an all-island basis, has much to tell us about public views on hate crime. The findings show that a clear majority of the population, north and south, appreciate the harms to victims and wider society that hate motivated criminality can cause. 

“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."