315. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the extent to which racism and hate speech or hate mail continue to be targeted as an offence in need of urgent attention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58166/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): The Deputy will be aware that the Government is fully committed to the fight against racism, prejudice and bigotry, and strongly condemns the actions of those who abuse and attack others because of their own prejudices against a person’s religion, ethnic origins, sexual orientation or any other part of their identity as a human being. Ireland is a diverse and tolerant country, and such behaviour is not acceptable.
I am pleased to say that the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021 was published on 16 April and is available on the Department of Justice website. Following its publication, the General Scheme was referred to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny on 17 November. The report of the Committee on the pre-legislative scrutiny is awaited. The Bill has also been referred to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel for drafting.
The Bill will create new, aggravated forms of certain existing criminal offences, where those offences are motivated by prejudice against a protected characteristic.
The General Scheme also provides for amendments to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act to provide for harassment aggravated by prejudice against one of the protected characteristics and provides for harassment aggravated by prejudice against a protected characteristic with threats to kill or cause serious harm.
The aggravated offences will generally carry an enhanced penalty, compared to the ordinary offence, and the record of any conviction for such an offence would clearly state that the offence was a hate crime.
In addition to my work on this legislation, my colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is taking forward the Government commitment to publish a National Action Plan against Racism.