Hate Crime, Mate…

Changing attitudes and behaviours is key to ensuring that disabled people in the Irish Republic feel safe within their mainstream local communities. ILMI very much recognises that disability related harassment and abuse significantly impacts the lifecourse choices of disabled people. Despite continuing anecdotes of Hate-Crime and hate speech reported to ILMI, disability hate crime is grossly unreported in official Ireland. Even in the UK,  97% of Hate-Crime goes unreported. UK reasons for poor stats on reporting include disabled people fears of reprisal and genuine fear of not being taken seriously. Other disabling reasons include being unsure how to report Hate-Crime or disabled people just learning to accept abuse and harassment as part of their normal life.

An Asian disabled man is being throttled by a white thug whilst undertaking a survey on hate crime. He is saying to the thug: “And one final question sir – do you hate me because I’m black, gay or disabled?!”

ILMI’s Peter Kearns was invited to a recent zoom panel about Irish Hate-Crime lived experiences, organised by the Dublin Lord Mayor Hazel Chu. The March 26th 2021 webinar Chaired by Hazel set-out to do something about diverse lived experience injustices and anticipate the end of year promised government Hate-Crime legislation. The diverse panel responded to Hate-Crime lived experiences by promoting better recognition, reporting and recording of all such crimes, including disability Hate-Crime.

Peter told the large webinar audience that ILMI understands disability Hate-Crime to be the prosecution of someone committing a crime that is motivated by hostility, prejudice or bias towards the victim because of their impairment label or perceived disability lived experience differences. ILMI hopes that the promised 2021 legislation will reflect a disability equality perspective that can lead to a legal definition that can be classed as a disability Hate-Crime. Speakers at the webinar argued that in some jurisdictions, the demonstration of hostility, prejudice or bias towards disabled people in the course of committing an offence is sufficient for the crime to be considered a Hate-Crime. But, until we see the new Hate-Crime legislation it should be clarified that there are currently no laws criminalising the hate element of a crime in Ireland for any targeted group. Some Irish judges may choose to enhance sentences if a hate element is proven, but they are not required to do so. And it should be known that hate speech offences are separate to Hate-Crime laws.

At last month’s webinar, Peter pointed out the we are still relying on talking about Irish Hate-Crime data that often relies on UK stats. Breaking down the most recent UK stats on disability Hate-Crime, Peter told the Lord Mayor’s webinar audience that nearly half of Hate-Crime and hate speech towards disabled people is directed at young disabled people. UK stats also show that the largest offenders of Hate-Crime are young non-disabled people. ILMI suggests that one clear action, beyond relying on forthcoming legislation, is to effectively resource early disability equality intervention and prevention in partnership with DPOs. Disability Equality Training with young people, such as ILMI’ s ONSIDE workshops with border county Transition Year (‘TY’ students), is the key to changing attitudes and behaviours and to encouraging a more accepting, tolerant and diverse Irish society. 

Peter also directed fellow webinar panel members from the civil service and academia towards the Scottish government project I AM ME SCOTLAND.  Since its establishment in 2015, this project has a proven track record of building-up the confidence of disabled adults and young people to report Hate-Crimes. I AM ME is a partnership between Scottish DPOs and local police forces. The I AM ME 2020 to 2025 strategic plan includes a key priority of focussing on early intervention and prevention. The social model informed strategic plan sets outto tackle Scottish disability Hate-Crime and to raise awareness of how incidents can be reported by disabled people.

Peter also wants ILMI members and supporters to know about Scottish DPOs promoting the term Mate-Crime. Scottish activists are using theMate-Crime termwhen so-called ‘vulnerable’ or dis-empowered disabled people are befriended by dubious non-disabled members of their mainstream communities who go on to exploit and take advantage of them. Peter tells the ILMI E-Bulletin that: “Mate-Crime covers a wide number of people including friends, family, PAs and care-givers. Sometimes the Mate-Crime exploitation may not be an illegal act but still has a negative effect on the disabled individual”. ILMI would like to emphasise that disability Hate-Crime can take many different forms, ranging in severity from name calling to physical assault and in the most extreme cases can end with fatalities. Non-disabled professionals often confuse Hate-Crime or hate speech by referring to it as bullying, harassment or even low level anti-social behaviour. In fact, what appears to be harmless name calling can quite often quickly escalate into a serious incident for the disabled person.

The heads of Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021 were published in April. 

ILMI is a member of the Coalition Against Hate Crime.