818. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice the steps she is taking to address rates of violence and abuse experienced by persons with disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16982/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Justice Plan 2021 commits to introducing new legislation to deal with hate crime and incitement to hatred by the end of this year and I intend to seek cabinet approval to publish the general scheme of a Hate Crime Bill shortly.
As the Deputy may be aware, the legislative proposals are being developed following a widespread consultation process, which included in-depth consultations with various civil society and community groups, academics and experts, a public consultation process and a detailed comparative study of approaches to hate crime in 5 other jurisdictions. The purpose of this extensive work was to ensure my Department could identify how Ireland’s law in this area could be improved, based on a clear understanding of the experiences of those impacted by hate speech and hate crime.
The Deputy will be able to see from the report and the appendices that many of those who engaged in the consultation process were victims of hate speech and hate crime themselves, while others were concerned about the very real need to respect the human rights of everyone involved, including the right to freedom of speech.
The report and its appendices are available on http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Legislating_for_Hate_Speech_and_Hate_Crime_in_Ireland_Web.pdf/Files/Legislating_for_Hate_Speech_and_Hate_Crime_in_Ireland_Web.pdf.
It is my intention that the characteristics protected by the new legislation will include all of those listed in the 1989 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, and will be expanded to include gender, gender expression or identity, and disability.
The new legislation will provide the necessary means to prosecute perpetrators who deliberately or recklessly incite hatred against others on the basis of a protected characteristic, while bearing in mind the provisions of the Constitution and our human rights obligations including those contained in the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 to protect the right to freedom of expression.
While I am informed by the Courts Service that it does not seek or compile statistics on victims who might have a disability, I can assure the Deputy that the Courts Service is committed to providing equal access to justice to all citizens, including those with disabilities.