The job of An Garda Siochána, just like any other police force, is to maintain public order, and to investigate crime.
The definition of a crime varies from country to country. In Ireland, for example, soliciting the services of a prostitute is illegal. In Ireland that’s a crime – in the Netherlands, by contrast, it’s legal.
The difference between the two jurisdictions is not that the police in the Netherlands are more morally lax than their Irish counterparts. It is simply this: Police forces do not make the law. Parliaments and Governments make the law.
In the UK, there is so-called “hate crime” legislation in place, creating an offence of hate crime if the UK police suspects that a particular offence was aggravated or motivated by some form of hate or bigotry directed at a person because of their racial, sexual, or religious characteristics.
In Ireland, no such law exists.
The Government is debating the introduction of such a law, of course. But the Hate Crime Bill of 2020 is not due back before the Cabinet until Easter.
As of today, “Hate Crime” simply does not exist in Irish law.
So…. Why are the Gardai asking people to report it?
Here’s what they say, on the official Garda website:
(A hate crime is) Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
(A hate incident – non crime is) Any non-crime incident which is perceived by any person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
There are a number of things to note here:
First, and most importantly, the Gardai are asking the public to report crimes that do not exist in Irish law. There is no such offence as hate crime at the moment. What there is, on the other hand, is an ongoing debate in the Dáil about whether to introduce such an offence.
But by asking the public to report such “crimes”, the Gardai are putting their thumb on the scale of a debate in the Oireachtas. In fact, it seems to be the official position of the force that there should be hate crime legislation. This is an obvious breach of the responsibility that the Gardai have to remain neutral in matters of political controversy. They’re getting involved in a live political debate.
Nobody will challenge them on this, of course, because they’re widely perceived to be getting involved in the right side of a live political debate. And in Ireland, things like rules and principles don’t matter that much, very often, if you’re on the right side of a live political debate. Just look at all the taxpayers money that flows into NGOs to get involved in political debates – totally at variance with democratic principles, but forgiven because they’re on the right side.
Anyway, aside from the issue of how inappropriate this is, it also provides a useful reminder of what a terrible idea hate crime legislation is. Read the bits in bold above, and read them carefully:
A hate incident is “any incident perceived by the victim or any other person to be in whole, or in part, motivated by hostility or prejudice.”
In other words, you do not need to hate anybody to be guilty of a hate crime. You simply need somebody else to say that they believe that you hate somebody.
In fact, so eager are the Gardai to catch thought-criminals that they’re asking the public to report suspects even today, when no such crime exists.
It suggests that, if the law passes, there will be those who will be very eager to wield it. And some of them, scarily enough, work for the Gardai.