New laws for Northern Ireland dealing with Hate Crimes come into effect today (28 September.) This legislation gives the power to the courts to hand down stiffer sentences to those convicted of criminal offences motivated by sectarianism, racism, homophobia or hatred towards those with disabilities. Alliance first proposed this legislation for Northern Ireland in July 2000.
Welcoming the move, Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson, Stephen Farry stated:
“Today’s implementation of Hate Crime legislation is a welcome, but long-overdue development.
“It is now over five years since similar legislation was introduced in Great Britain, and over four years since Alliance first presented such proposals to the Northern Ireland Office. Notably, it is almost three years to the day that the then Secretary of State announced these measures to the Labour Party Conference.
“These powers will send out a very strong message that hate crimes will not be tolerated within this society. Such attacks do not only affect the immediate victim, but spread fear across whole groups in our society, and offend the notion of a shared, multicultural society.
“Sectarian attacks have long been a scourge in this society. But Northern Ireland has the unenviable record of having the highest rate of racial attacks per head of population in the UK.
“It is particularly welcome that Northern Ireland is now pioneering laws dealing with attacks motivated by homophobia or by prejudice against those with disabilities.
“Of course, these laws are only piece of jigsaw in dealing with hate crimes. The police, with the co-operation of the community, have a major role to play in catching those responsible for attacks. Ultimately, community relations efforts are required to remove such prejudice within society, starting with the young.”