Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Session 2003 - 04

20 May 2004 EMBARGOED


20 May 2004 EMBARGOED

Not to be published in full, or in part, in any form before

11.00am on FRIDAY 21 May 2004


COMMITTEE REPORTS ON ‘HATE CRIME’

WELCOMING PROPOSED GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION TO TACKLE SECTARIAN, RACE, AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION ‘HATE CRIME’ IN NORTHERN IRELAND,  THE NORTHERN IRELAND AFFAIRS COMMITTEE INTERIM REPORT ON ‘HATE CRIME’ CALLS FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO EXTEND PROTECTION TO DISABLED PEOPLE

Michael Mates MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

“ ‘Hate crime’ is a significant and growing problem in Northern Ireland. Police figures issued last week show that there were 453 incidents involving ethnic racial minorities and 71 involving homophobia in 2003/04, double the rate for 2002/03. While the figures may be modest, the upward trend is unmistakable. Government action to prevent further increases is required now. We are convinced that strong law and effective policing are key parts of any strategy to confront these despicable crimes. We must send the strongest possible signal that such activity is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our society. We are pleased therefore that the Government has published draft legislation to address this problem.

“While the Government’s draft ‘hate crime’ legislation is welcome, the present draft Order omits protection for disabled people in Northern Ireland. This places those in Northern Ireland at a disadvantage with disabled people in England and Wales where Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides protection from ‘hate crime’. Astonishingly, the Government, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the disabled support groups, do not appear to have comprehensive statistics on attacks on disabled people in Northern Ireland. Despite this serious gap in our knowledge, the Committee heard credible evidence that disabled people in Northern Ireland do experience a wide range of ‘hate crime’ attacks.

We consider that it is untenable for the Government to have legislation in place which protects disabled people from ‘hate crime’ in England and Wales but not to provide such protection in Northern Ireland. As a consequence we are asking the Government to consider urgently extending the present proposals to include disabled people in Northern Ireland and to amend the draft Order accordingly. This will be an important step in ensuring equality of protection for vulnerable groups throughout the United Kingdom.”

Pointing to the importance of accurate statistics when considering ‘hate crime’  Mr Mates said:

“ The Committee understands that in addition to collecting statistics on racial and homophobic incidents, the police intend to begin collecting figures for sectarian offences. We welcome this long overdue action. The police have told us that there is no particular difficulty in recording incidents involving disabled people. The present position where there are no accurate official statistics covering incidents involving disabled people cannot be allowed to continue. The Government and the police should now arrange for such incidents to be recorded in order to establish the exact scale of this problem.”