Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Session 2004-2005

8 April 2005




The Challenge of Diversity: Hate Crime in Northern Ireland

COMMITTEE DEMANDS ACTION TO HEAD OFF ‘HATE CRIME’ SURGE IN NORTHERN IRELAND

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today published the report of its inquiry into hate crime in Northern Ireland.

The Rt. Hon. Michael Mates MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

“In the course of this inquiry we received strong evidence that hate crime is a growing problem in Northern Ireland. Racial, homophobic, and sectarian attacks have increased, and there has been a growing number of attacks on people with disabilities. We have examined the responses of the Government and the Police Service of Northern Ireland to these repugnant events, and have recommended that the urgency and focus of those responses be sharpened in order to combat rising levels of hate crime. 

Mr Mates continued:

“Quick action is required on a number of fronts if the recent surge in hate crime in Northern Ireland is to be reversed. Our inquiry has shown that the approach of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to addressing hate crime has been disjointed and slow. They must improve their policy co-ordination, and ensure that appropriate policies are facilitating improvements on the ground. The publication of a number of the OFMDFM’s hate crime strategies has been delayed, and this is unacceptable when the problem is growing. These strategies must all be published as a matter of priority, and when in place, their impact must be assessed, and the results published.

“Strong enforcement by the PSNI is absolutely vital if the rising tide of hate crime is to be stemmed. At present the police are devoting insufficient priority to protecting some of the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland society. We heard evidence of frustration and even despair amongst members of ethnic minorities over the absence of a strong and effective response by the police.  The PSNI needs to redouble its efforts to improve confidence in the reporting system for hate crime, in particular, to address reasons for under-reporting, and encourage more victims to report crimes. The PSNI’s clearance rates for racial and homophobic incidents are unacceptably low and must increase. The PSNI needs to implement its hate crime policy as a matter of urgency and, most importantly, to improve their relationship with minority communities generally.

“At the same time, the police and the authorities must receive the full support of the minority communities which need to adopt a rigorous approach to the reporting of these crimes.  We are aware of the difficulties ‘on the ground’ of reporting often brutal attacks. However, there is no substitute for victims coming forward if the problem is to be addressed adequately. We are extremely concerned that the absence of reporting could disguise the extent and seriousness of the problem, and we urge all those who have suffered from such attacks to report them to the police at once.

“The ethnic, homophobic, and disabled community support groups have a particularly important role in assisting those who have been attacked to come forward. We expect them to campaign vigorously for the problem to be taken seriously.  We have been impressed by the profile given to the problem by the press in recent months, and hope that this issue will continue to be a reporting priority.   

“We were disappointed at the evidence that little use had been made of existing legislation, which could have been used to tackle hate crime, including the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. Last year we scrutinised the government’s proposed new hate crime legislation, the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) (No.2) Order 2004, last year which is specifically designed to tackle hate crime in Northern Ireland. We recommended improvements to cover disabled people which the government accepted. We expect the PSNI and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to ensure that all relevant legislation, including the 2004 Order, is used vigorously to counter hate crime. The PSNI and DPP should conduct an early review of prosecutions under the 2004 Order.

“We believe that education is a vitally important tool in fighting the root causes of hate crime. The Department for Education must ensure that its revised statutory curriculum on Local and Global Citizenship is monitored regularly to assess its contribution to the attitudes and behaviour of young people to hate crime. We are also concerned that the demand for integrated education in Northern Ireland is not being met by the Department, and we are recommending that it gives greater priority to that issue.

“The support and community organisations, the Churches, and trade unions are playing significant roles in tackling hate crime. However, more can be done, and these efforts to provide support and advice to the victims of hate crime must be developed. The Government needs to ensure that support groups and community organisations which have an important role in encouraging the creation of a tolerant and peaceful society are adequately funded. 

Mr Mates concluded:

The sensitive treatment of vulnerable minorities is a good indication of the maturity of any normal society. A start has been made in Northern Ireland by the Government and the PSNI to extend to vulnerable minorities the support to which they are entitled.  However, this is only a start.  What we expect to see in place without delay is a framework of clear and sensible Government policies designed to address hate crime, structured around a vision of a tolerant and inclusive society, buttressed by a fearless police pursuit of perpetrators, and prosecutions being carried forward vigorously by the prosecuting authorities where appropriate.

“Addressing hate crime involves the commitment of many people and organisations, indeed, of every single citizen in his and her daily life, but the lead must come from the government, the PSNI, and the other criminal justice agencies in Northern Ireland.  If urgent action is not taken now, the problem will continue to grow with a resultant increase in community tensions. This must be avoided. We are determined that the tide of hate crime should be rolled back. Pressing forward to the development of a normal society in Northern Ireland requires ensuring that minority communities are free to flourish and contribute to the benefit of all.”