By Hugo Greenhalgh and Cormac O Brien
LONDON, July 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - LGBT campaigners called on the Irish government on Wednesday to make hate crimes illegal following a wave of violent attacks on the gay community.
Over the course of the past few weeks, a brick was thrown through the window of a popular Dublin LGBT bar, homophobic slogans were scrawled on the walls of another, and in June a gay male couple were hospitalised following an assault.
"We have made legal strides in recent years," Adam Long, board member of Ireland's National LGBT Federation (NFX), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It has been a long time coming, but people now feel that they are equal citizens."
"Ireland is an outlier in the Western world for not having the legislation and it is time the government stepped up to the mark," Long said. "We are not going to retreat back into the shadows."
Across Europe, most countries have moved to enact legislation. Exceptions, such as Germany, criminalise hate speech instead.
Earlier this month, David Stanton, Ireland's junior justice and equality minister, dismissed a call by Sinn Fein senator Fintan Warfield to introduce a new law.
"Other countries in which there is hate crime legislation in place have major problems, but we do not," Stanton told members of Ireland's parliamentary upper house.
"We need the political will of the government (to change the law)," Warfield said on Wednesday.
"I've experienced physical homophobia myself and the effect of such an incident is that it can be quite internal — it's not like having your bike stolen," he said.
In recent years, Ireland has moved to enact various laws protecting the rights of its LGBT citizens, including legalising same-sex marriage and allowing trans people to change their birth certificates.
Under existing legislation, anyone convicted under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act faces up to two years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of 25,400 euros ($29,650).
A spokesman for Charlie Flanagan, the justice and equality minister, said the provisions of the act were under review.
"The government is committed to ensuring that Ireland is a safe and secure country for all those who live here and that racism, homophobia and all forms of discrimination are not tolerated," the spokesman said.
Academics at the University of Limerick have drafted a bill that would incorporate hate crimes – for all minorities – into Irish law. It would supersede one introduced in early 2017 that has stalled in the Irish parliament.
"If we don't recognise hate crimes through legislation we are missing out on the message that it can send that this sort of behaviour is not tolerated by society," said Jennifer Schweppe, senior lecturer in law at the University of Limerick.
(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)