5G – Caveat Emptor? A Look Into The Truth Behind 5G’s Supposed Health Threats

5G – Caveat Emptor? A Look Into The Truth Behind 5G’s Supposed Health Threats

Business & Politics

5G – Caveat Emptor? A Look Into The Truth Behind 5G’s Supposed Health Threats

5G tower mast

25th July 2020

 

5G is the newest addition to the evolution of mobile communication technology and has been made increasingly available to the public since late 2018. Corresponding to global growth in demand for data and new technologies, 5G offers a speedier and better-equipped platform for both industrial and consumer-based telecommunications in the 21st Century. This includes global broadband access, the Internet of Things, faster mobile services, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and much more.

 

Not only this, 5G’s implementation promises to generate new revenue for technology companies, and the countries in which it is located. With over 9000 deployments worldwide, the top countries to currently have 5G include China, South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, as well as many in the EU including France, Germany, Italy, and Ireland.

 

Despite the fact it seems to be a natural progression in the saga of wireless technology, 5G has been met with significant public backlash, particularly in terms of the health risks it has been speculated to pose. Some are of the opinion that it can weaken the human immune system due to the height of its frequencies and the radiation it expels. This narrative gained a foothold with the idea that electromagnetic radiation may contribute to one’s likelihood of developing cancer or infertility. Moreover, in light of the current pandemic, this theory has now spun off in the direction of COVID-19.

 

It has been posited that in destabilising the immune system, 5G either heightens one’s likelihood of contracting the virus or on a more extreme note, directly transmits the virus. In retaliation to these conspiracies, an anarchic trend of sorts has begun as people are now targeting 5G towers, as well as those involved in their assemblance and maintenance. Across Europe alone, arson attacks against masts have occurred in countries including the UK, the Netherlands, and here in Ireland; where telecommunication engineers have been on the receiving end of numerous cases of verbal harassment.

 

“Despite the fact it seems to be a natural progression in the saga of wireless technology, 5G has been met with significant public backlash, particularly in terms of the health risks it has been speculated to pose.”

However baseless it may seem, speculation of such instances requires an analysis of their rationale. Hence, in this case, a look into the science behind 5G is imperative. All wireless technologies are on the electromagnetic spectrum, and each is classified uniquely by the frequency it uses to communicate over airwaves. 4G’s wavelengths operate at up to 6GHz, whereas 5G could reach anywhere between 30GHz and 300GHz. Evidently, the latter has a far greater bandwidth than the former, and the greater the bandwidth, the easier it is for telecommunication providers to handle more online traffic. What we must ask is whether, having been set to reach up to 100 times faster than 4G, such an increase would have any ‘strings’ attached so-to-speak, in terms of public health risks. The short answer is no. Electromagnetic radiation refers to the speed of radio waves. Once this speed passes a certain point, the radiation emitted becomes dangerous. However, most of the electromagnetic spectrum is non-ionising, meaning it lacks enough energy to interfere with matter, including the immune system.

 

Take nuclear radiation for example, which may be classified as alpha, beta, or gamma radiation. This has enough energy to interact with particles, so it can be harmful to humans as it can strip electrons from your DNA, therefore affecting your body. 5G’s radiation, on the other hand, is non-ionising, cannot interact with particles, and does not affect your body.

 

A condensed instance of assurance, what this article is highlighting is the danger of hearsay. Conspiracy theories are often inflated and sensationalist contortions of the truth. Their appeal lies in their shock-value and the elating sense of the ‘there’s something they’re not telling us’ phenomenon. However, they can also be dangerous, and should therefore always be taken with both a grain of salt and a heavy dose of investigative intent.

 

 

 

Featured photo Fabian Horst

 

 

Race For A Cure – The Search For A Covid-19 Vaccine And Its Implications For Public Health

Race For A Cure – The Search For A Covid-19 Vaccine And Its Implications For Public Health

Business & Politics

Race For A Cure – The Search For A Covid-19 Vaccine And Its Implications For Public Health

arm being swabbed medical professional in prepartion for an injection

24th July 2020

 

The race is on to find a safe, effective vaccine against Covid-19 which would allow for an exit from lockdown restrictions, quarantines and social distancing. Producing a vaccine is a mammoth task by any standards, but manufacturing a safe, effective inoculation in a matter of months for a virus against which no one has immunity, is unprecedented. While modern technology has allowed for the most extraordinary scientific discoveries, the process is not without its challenges, be they medical, political, ethical or logistical.

Despite its complexities and unknowns, the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has one major feature that could play to our advantage. Unlike the seasonal flu, Covid-19 has so far seen minimal mutation; it is quite stable over time which makes it an ideal viral candidate for a vaccine. Even if it mutates over the course of several months, it is unlikely to render any vaccine useless – it will continue to offer a reasonable level of protection. In the public imagination, vaccines are often viewed as a cure-all, but this has dangerous implications as it may lead to the abandonment of social distancing and handwashing altogether.

Even the most effective vaccine in circulation today, the MMR (97% effective), does not provide complete protection – therefore, we should not become complacent even if a vaccine is found. It may also be the case that a vaccine will not necessarily prevent infection but will protect against severe disease in the most vulnerable populations. To diminish the effects of the disease from pneumonia to a common cold would relieve the burden on hospitals and allow for the lifting of travel, social and economic restrictions which would, in itself, constitute a major public health victory.

There are currently over 160 vaccine candidates being investigated, many of which are using entirely new techniques. Despite the lightning speed at which these vaccines are reaching the human trial stage, Prof. Sarah Gilbert, a vaccinologist at Oxford University, has reassured the public that the usual safety steps are not being missed out – work previously carried out in stages, is now being done in tandem. The research teams are developing the vaccine “at-risk”; however, this doesn’t mean a safety risk but a business risk – they are paying upfront for its mass production before they are sure of its success.

The desperate need for a vaccine in the shortest possible time has raised some ethical questions surrounding the issue of human challenge trials. This type of trial involves deliberately infecting a small number of vaccinated volunteers with Covid-19 in a controlled setting to see if the vaccine offers protection. If successful, it could help fast-track vaccine production and distribution.

 

“The desperate need for a vaccine in the shortest possible time has raised some ethical questions surrounding the issue of human challenge trials”

​There are, however, many questions surrounding this technique. As the disease caused by the novel coronavirus remains poorly understood, many believe that a challenge trial would be unethical as there is currently still no reliable treatment and volunteers would be unable to give their full informed consent. If researchers don’t have a full picture of how the virus behaves, logically, this would mean they are unable to inform volunteers of the risks involved in participating. 

Stanley Plotkin, a vaccine developer at the University of Pennsylvania, has responded to this argument by highlighting the fact that we are facing a pandemic with a high mortality rate. While the medical community would not want to cause harm to any volunteer, harm is already accumulating around the world. Therefore, if we can take action to reduce the total amount of harm, then it’s worth doing. He also states that challenge trials should only be performed on young, healthy people, but this approach also has its safety limits. If it is restricted to a small, homogenous group, this will limit its applicability to the wider population, not to mention the potential for missing issues that could only be caught in a larger, more diverse study demographic – a robust response in young people could mask harmful effects in older persons. 

Quantifying risk is also a problem as young people are increasingly suffering severe complications from Covid-19, thus raising questions about the ethics of challenging any age group. The severity of the outbreaks in Brazil and the US may provide scientists with a unique opportunity to study the effectiveness of a vaccine quickly without the need for challenge trials at all. Testing a vaccine in an area where the virus is circulating widely (and naturally) is much more ethical. Here, the high infection rate is due to an inadequate governmental response to the pandemic, as well as delayed or ineffective lockdown measures, as opposed to deliberate infection by a research team. 

The anti-vaccination movement poses a serious problem for any nation’s plans for mass immunisation. If there are any safety issues with the new vaccine, this could damage credibility and affect confidence, thus leading to decreased uptake. US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, says this could make achieving herd immunity impossible. ‘Anti-vaxxers’ are not the only political threat to public health; equitable distribution will also be a key issue in the coming months. 

There is a growing fear of “vaccine nationalism”, an issue which Chloe Taylor compares to an arms race in a recent CNBC article. Governments are already trying to procure priority access via investments, which poses ethical concerns for those poorer countries who may not have the purchasing power to enable mass vaccination of their populations. This could prove problematic for developed nations too: if the virus continues to mutate in parts of the world unable to access the vaccine, it could once again pose a threat to global health, even to those already immunised. Therefore, fair and equal access to the vaccine for developed and developing nations alike is in everyone’s interests and requires collaboration between pharmaceutical companies, governments and patient-centric organisations such as MSF and WHO. 

 

 

Featured photo Obi Onyeador

 

 

Is the Failure of Trans-Healthcare in Ireland a Consequence of our Genuflection-Obsessed Past?

Is the Failure of Trans-Healthcare in Ireland a Consequence of our Genuflection-Obsessed Past?

Business & Politics

Is the Failure of Trans-Healthcare in Ireland a Consequence of our Genuflection-Obsessed Past?

trans pride flag

20th July 2020

 

In a 2016 census, 78.3% of the Irish population identified as Roman Catholic, a significant decline from the 2011 statistic of 84.2% in 2011. Numerically, this accounts for nearly 3.7 million people in our Republic, a domineering demographic. We have seen the social and political remnants of our historic love of the body of Christ, from Magdalene laundries to the fights for  equal marriage and abortion rights. When Sinead O’Connor said “fight the real enemy” in 1992, Ireland gagged and has gradually done so. Sadly in 2020, we’re still dealing with the repressive social constraints of our past, continuing to affect some of our most vulnerable.

In the ILGA-Europe annual review, statistics on a variety of LGBTQ+ issues ranked Ireland; 14th for the threat of hate crime and hate speech, 5th for accessibility to legal gender recognition and bodily autonomy and 21st for social attitudes toward equality and non-discrimination. This annual review gathers a plethora of factors including legislative recognition and social attitudes in order to rank states accordingly. The group warns that while progress for LGBTQ+ people in Europe “paints an image of the region as a leading light” for human rights and equality, these developments are “a surface impression that does not tell a complete or accurate story”. One such story which is not being told accurately is that of transgender healthcare.

Transgender healthcare in Ireland is failing those who need it. One way of explaining why is our obsession with anything Catholic, from Communions to Lourdes, we can’t get enough of it. In this article, I’m going to explain why this obsession is hindering access to healthcare for some of our most marginalized groups.

What are the issues exactly? 

Stigma, discrimination and isolation are some words commonly thrown around when we discuss trans healthcare in Ireland. To understand why we first need to look at the system itself. Firstly, the Irish healthcare system is unusual within the European context, since it is not designed with the objective of offering universal, equitable access to either primary or acute hospital care, meaning, our healthcare system is unfortunately founded with certain institutionalised bias. Secondly, the system is predominantly tax-financed, 69% to be exact, this means that resource allocation is controlled by the governing parties and their objectives, so it’s run by the Irish elite. Thirdly, throughout the period 1911 to 2011 a fundamentally libertarian perception of healthcare was common, healthcare was viewed as a marketable commodity rather than a personal right. And, finally, Irish healthcare was facilitated by everyone’s favourite morality brigade, the Catholic church.

Ok, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with trans healthcare? Well to summarize the above; our healthcare system is classist, biased, institutionally capitalist and deeply religious, all of which do not mix well with LGBTQ+ issues.

What this results in is the following; currently, there are only two endocrinologists in Ireland who will prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT), despite every doctor and GP being qualified to do. 28-33 months is the average wait time to access HRT, an unnecessary obstacle considering per capita Ireland is one of the richest countries in Europe so it is clear we can do better. Countless studies have shown such waiting times increasingly exacerbate individual suffering, in addition to creating tensions between doctors and patients that can lead to an erosion of trust in the healthcare system among the transgender community. Psychologically speaking, the lack of support available during such a tumultuous time may cause individuals to travel abroad or seek solutions in the black market. These decisions, devised out of desperation, can cause both physical and emotional damage to the individual.

 

“Stigma, discrimination and isolation are some words commonly thrown around when we discuss trans healthcare in Ireland.”

Okay, I get that, but why are you blaming Catholicism? 

Well, trace anything back and you will find roots in ideology. In this case, health bias is the result of years of social stigma, instilled from our old friend the Catholic church. Remember when I said our island has nearly 3.7 million Catholics? Well, its important to understand how this faith views transgender individuals in order to understand the knock-on effects on transgender healthcare. In 2019 the Congregation for Catholic Education released  “Male and Female, He Created Them”, outlined as a ‘path’ of dialogue on the question of gender theory in education from a cathloic based ethos.

The paper was the first extensive statement on transgender identity by the Vatican and was in direct response to the contemporary shift toward a more gender expressive society. Opening with a quote by Pope Benedict XVI and addressing members of the Diplomatic Corps, Benedict depicts a modern educational crisis. The increased openness to sexuality and gender curricula around the globe has “allegedly conveyed a neutral conception of the person and life, yet in fact reflects an anthropology opposed to faith and right reason” according to the publication. For 31 pages it continues to outline the church’s stance on sexuality and gender, which I don’t think will make a best-seller anytime soon.

The publication, written by religious elites  who for decades have benefitted and capitalised from a status quo society, states that a transgender identity seeks to “annihilate the concept of nature”. I can’t possibly comprehend the logic behind such a statement, but given 31 pages of covert gendered discrimination and institutionalised bigotry, I’m unfortunately not surprised.

Given that those who founded our healthcare system did so on a moral obligation which involved discrimination of anyone who wasn’t white and male, it is no surprise that marginalised groups are still suffering in our contemporary healthcare system. Looking to the future, we need to drop the shackles of our past, and progress with a secularised system of health, and remember that healthcare shouldn’t be a privilege. Transphobia is institutionalised within Irish health and society. If we have the tools to recognise it, we have the tools to change it.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo Sharon McCutcheon

 

 

China’s Tightened Grip on Hong Kong

China’s Tightened Grip on Hong Kong

Business & Politics

China’s Tightened Grip on Hong Kong

Honk Kong Riot Police

15th July 2020

 

The Chinese government has strengthened their control on Hong Kong, and barely two weeks on, the effects are already being felt.

The new law was passed on 30th June by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (SCNPC), a central organ of lawmaking in Beijing, and came into effect immediately.

Critics are claiming that the new National Security uses a desire for peace to mask repression of civil liberties in the city. It is widely seen by western politicians, and the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, as a further attempt by Beijing to restrict the special freedoms that those in Hong Kong enjoy in comparison to the rest of communist China.

What does the new law mean? 

The new law deals with the penalties around four types of crime – secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion – and specifies a maximum jail sentence of life imprisonment for any of these.

While it may be expected for any country to have laws covering these crimes, what is notable in Hong Kong is the fact that Beijing has consistently used these terms, or close variants, to describe the protests taking place in the city since March 2019.

These protests were in opposition to another proposed law – known widely as the 2019 extradition bill – which was also seen as an attempt to erode the democratic freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong. It was due to be passed by the Hong Kong government, but the protests succeeded in forcing its withdrawal.

Now, the national security law seems to have taken its place. It has been described as an “extreme version of the failed extradition bill,” and has provoked even more protests in the region.

The Chinese government once agreed that the democratic systems in Hong Kong should be preserved after the 1997 handover, and promised to leave the territory to govern itself, under Chinese oversight, for fifty years. Twenty-three years have passed, and frequent protests have taken place for the last sixteen months, showing that many in Hong Kong fear their autonomy is fading much quicker than promised.

The idea of the national security law is nothing new. It was part of the core agreements between Britain and China as they worked towards a transfer of sovereignty in 1997.  Similar attempts were made to pass the law by the Hong Kong government in 2003, and even by the British colonial government in the 90s – but the topic has always been a sensitive one, quick to inspire dispute and protests.

So the current crisis is the latest in a long history of unrest in the area. But critically, Beijing has spent months labelling protesters as terrorists, secessionists and guilty of acting under western influence. All these things are now punishable with sentences up to life imprisonment.

 

 

“… it has been reported that police may now take DNA samples, search properties without warrants, intercept communications and regulate internet activity, claiming the law has given them the right to do so.”

On the ground, arrests have already been made since the new law was enacted. 

Ten people were taken into custody on its very first day of operation. Since then, it has been reported that police may now take DNA samples, search properties without warrants, intercept communications and regulate internet activity, claiming the law has given them the right to do so. 

A prominent pro-democracy activist Nathan Law has fled the city, and has said that Britain will be his new home for the time being. 

More recently, Hong Kong has now banned the singing of pro-democratic ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ anthem and other forms of protest in the city’s schools. In many eyes, the restrictions on once-widely held freedoms are closing in. 

Meanwhile, the west has pledged assistance, with the UK at the forefront. 

As the country which handed sovereignty of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, it has retained strong links with the territory. And while two nations jointly declared in 1984 that Hong Kong’s way of life would be unchanged, China now considers this declaration confined to the history books, while the UK claims it is legally valid and must be upheld. 

As a result, the UK has now opened a pathway for settlement and citizenship in the UK to over 3 million Hong Kong residents. The announcement was met with fury from China, with promises to retaliate. 

The UK can only offer citizenship to those born in Hong Kong (or their children under 18) when they had sovereignty over the territory. Because of this, there’s a cohort of young adults born after 1997 who will miss out on that option. 

But in any case, it opens the door to an East Berlin-style ‘brain-drain’ if those in Hong Kong with education and sufficient wealth to make the move choose to do so. 

It remains unclear whether the Beijing government would go as far as barring Hong Kong citizens from leaving the territory; the UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab has admitted that there is little it could do in that event. 

Meanwhile, the current British government is in power arguably in part due to their promises to restrict immigration. So far, little has been made of how an invitation to millions of Hong Kong residents will align with that promise. No member of the Johnson cabinet has addressed this issue in detail yet. 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo Jonathan van Smit

 

 

Straddling the Line Between Party and Protest

Straddling the Line Between Party and Protest

Diversity & Inclusion

Straddling the Line Between Party and Protest
pride wrist band
14th July 2020

 

On Friday 26th June, STAND had the privilege of taking part a webinar joined by Evgeny Shtorn, Russian LGBTQ+ and direct provision activist, scholar and poet, and Rayann, community organiser, advocate for black queer folk in Ireland and poet. Both agreed that while Pride had accomplished so much, with so many reasons to celebrate, Pride was and still is, first and foremost, a protest.

Although Pride started as a protest, led by mostly black trans women and lesbians; the most visible activism of Pride in the past rested with “privileged, New York, gay cis white men” according to Shtorn, an issue which did not go unnoticed by Angela Davis – she claimed that feminism became white feminism, while the LGBTQ+ movement became fronted by white men.

Even today, Pride is very much still white-washed and run by corporations, resulting in a lack of reflection of many of the community. “Having one or two token gay people at every panel isn’t enough”. Rayann noted that there is a huge amount to combat regarding privilege, race, class and able-bodiedness: “[Pride] has become a corporate party proving that they are inclusive, while the [large intersections of the community] feel disheartened and quite invisible from the movement, but in a social lens, very ostracised and alienated”.

Rayann centred on the black LGBTQ+ intersection, quoting Marsha P. Stewart’s famous line “No Pride for some of us without liberation for all of us”. They noted that intersections of oppression come extremely close when it comes to black trans folk; as a result of misogyny, race and so on. They are constantly questioning their placement on this world, and are put in a lot of danger – which, according to Rayann, is reflected in the current Black Lives Matter movement, as the lives of black trans folk are often pushed to the side.

Shtorn focused on the LGBTQ+ movement and Direct Provision. At his first real Pride in Dublin in 2017, he joined a small DP column in the parade which resulted in them being the  last group to walk. Surely this is a reflection of how DP residents are treated in Ireland. When people arrive in this country and find themselves placed in DP, they know nobody in the country they often cannot speak the language; and have no one to ask for help. Some of these people are lacking very basic needs. Then, as Shtorn explained, if these people were revealed to be LGBTQ+, they could be left completely isolated and without support – ignored, excluded and even abused. Subtle bullying among other residents of DP can be a problem – although not tangible, as Shtorn clarified, it could have very bad consequences on mental health.

A growing problem is gender-based violence, especially for female subjects who are hosted in a mixed environment and are often in close contact with males expressing sexual interest in them – there is almost no way to control it. A solution to all this for LGBTQ+ folk in DP to be able to go to events, to community centres, to meet people. Due to a lack of transport options, people in the asylum process in rural areas do not have the luxury of simply going to Dublin as many Irish citizens can.

“Not only are LGBTQ+ people often more vulnerable in the Direct Provision system, but Evgeny also highlighted their heightened vulnerability throughout every facet of society”

In terms of allyship to the LGBTQ+ community, both speakers focussed on how when campaigning for wider political or human rights issues, we must always be aware of how different issues and identities intersect. Not only are LGBTQ+ people often more vulnerable in the Direct Provision system, but Evgeny also highlighted their heightened vulnerability throughout every facet of society. He highlighted the fact that in terms of issues such as domestic violence, bullying or isolation; we must be aware of the intersections of vulnerability for those who are victims of homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny. He also reminded us of the fact that the law is not always equatable with people’s lived experiences; in his native Russia, although on the surface they appear to have robust hate crime legislation, in reality it is completely ineffective, and often works against the victims of the crime. It is important to remember that while we have enjoyed access to equal marriage in Ireland since 2015, that does not mean that homophobia no longer exists in Irish society or that we can become complacent.

Rayann also addressed the compounding of issues such as housing and homelessness, which affect so many in our society, but disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ people and particularly Black queer youth. They highlighted the fact that lack of access to affordable housing can lead to many LGBTQ+ people either forced into insecure housing, or forced to live with an unsupportive family, often remaining closeted for fear of being kicked out of their home. Rayann focussed on the issues of who is uplifted in society and who is trodden upon; often it is white, cis people at the forefront of Pride parades and campaigns, but it is Black trans people who shoulder the burdens of financially insecurity, violence and exclusion.

In this current moment, when Black Lives Matter protests are taking place across the globe, Rayann encouraged us to reflect on whose voices are amplified during Pride. Trans people of colour are disproportionately affected by discrimination and violence, but their voices are often the quietest in the movement. Who gets to party whilst others are still protesting??

 

 

Featured photo by Eduardo Pastor

 

Hate Crime Legislation in Ireland

Hate Crime Legislation in Ireland

Business & Politics

Hate Crime Legislation in Ireland

an image of a road in a desert region

13th July 2020

As Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have all voted in favour of the proposed Programme for Government, it appears that a coalition government between these three parties will be leading the Dáil for the next five years. Despite many Irish voters, particularly young people under 35, hoping for a left-leaning coalition who would focus on housing and public services, it appears that the tenure of the 33rd Dáil may not stray very far from the status quo of the past decade.

There are some seemingly positive aspects of the Programme for Government, particularly in the area of environmentalism; the proposal of a ‘Green New Deal’ aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the withdrawal of planning for the Shannon LNG terminal, and an increase in spending on cycling infrastructure.

There is a commitment to move away from the Direct Provision system, with an expert group producing recommendations for a new not-for-profit system by the end of this year. On other social issues the document is vague in terms of specific timeframes and spending, such as with the progression toward a living wage and the creation of increased state housing.

One aspect of the new government’s plans for the next few years is a pressing issue which will be a very welcome development to many. The drafted programme stated that hate crime will be legislated for, ensuring that those who target victims because of their identity will be prosecuted on the basis of hate crime. The current legislation for hate speech, the Incitement to Hatred Act of 1989, is also set for an update.

Currently, Ireland has no effective legislation to combat hate crime. The Incitement to Hatred Act only addresses hate speech which is specifically intended to incite violence, a narrow scope which has proved incredibly difficult to implement and has been inefficient in combating hate speech. In October 2019, the Gardaí introduced their own working hate crime definition which extends to several different identities such as race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation; but fails to address hate crimes against some of the most vulnerable groups in Irish society such as asylum seekers and transgender people.

But even when this hate crime definition allows the Gardaí to charge individuals with hate crimes, because of a lack of substantial legislation, the ‘hate’ element of the crime is often filtered out before it comes to sentencing. As there is no official way of recording that a hate crime has taken place, there is no way of addressing this behaviour on a national level, and no way of investigating patterns or addressing the vulnerability of certain groups. When the Maryan Mosque in Galway was vandalised in July 2019, the Gardaí investigated it as a ‘burglary’, a charge which did not take into account the specific targeting of the Muslim community in the area.

 

“The Incitement to Hatred Act only addresses hate speech which is specifically intended to incite violence, a narrow scope which has proved incredibly difficult to implement and has been inefficient in combating hate speech.” 

 

According to the EU Court of Human Rights, states are under an obligation to ensure that the possible ‘hate’ elements of crimes are properly investigated, in order to protect vulnerable minorities within the population. Ireland has shown to be particularly inadequate in addressing hate crime, to the point that the UN was forced to urge the Irish government to introduce hate crime legislation as recently as December 2019.

In July 2018, a detailed report by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties found that Ireland has among the highest rates in the EU of hate crime against transgender people and people from African backgrounds. Presently, there is no proper government tracking of any workable data on hate crime, and the national action plan against racism expired in 2008. The Ireland of 1989, when the Incitement to Hatred Act was created, is very different from  the Ireland of 2020, and we are in desperate need of updated hate crime legislation.

In May 2019, the Irish Times reported that Ireland was among the top three countries in the EU with the worst records in terms of racial violence based on skin colour. Along with Austria and Finland, Ireland showed some of the highest rates of racially motivated harassment, at a staggering 51% compared to an average of 30% amongst the countries surveyed. The impact that our lack of hate crime legislation has on vulnerable communities is clear, as less than one-third of those who were racially discriminated against in Ireland made a complaint or reported the crimes to the Gardaí.

According to iReport, the Irish Network Against Racism’s system for reporting racist incidents, this is still an incredibly pertinent issue in 2020. The figures released by INAR from their iReport system in the first quarter of 2020, showed an almost doubling of average reporting rate compared with quarters in 2019. They stated an increase in 63% for crime and discrimination reports and a fourfold increase in relation to online content. Much of these reports from early in the year came from election literature and social media posts from far-right candidates in February’s general election.

Despite garnering a minor portion of the votes, candidates from organisations such as the National Party and the Irish Freedom Party, as well as Independents such as Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters, were able to use the nature of social media to easily circulate their harmful materials online. It is clear that rapid social changes in Ireland in recent years; equal marriage, the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, increased immigration, as well as increasingly visible far-right politicians across Europe and elsewhere, have allowed a fringe minority of the openly hateful to amplify their message. Although these far-right candidates were largely unsuccessful in this year’s general election, it was only two years ago that Peter Casey rose to second place in the Presidential election following his weaponising of anti-Traveller sentiment amongst his voter base.

In recent weeks, with the voices of the Black communities in Ireland and across the world being amplified, it is impossible to ignore the issues of inequality within our societies. With robust hate crime legislation, not only will we be able to give greater protection to those who are vulnerable because of their identity, but crucially we will have the data to judge honestly and openly how the issues of intolerance and hate manifest in Irish society, and learn to combat them. Jennifer Schweppe, Senior Law Lecturer at the University of Limerick, characterises hate crime as a ‘message crime’, a targeted incident intended to send a message to a particular group that they are unwelcome. Our hate crime legislation is a way of sending a message back; that all sexualities, races, abilities, genders are welcome in Ireland, and that hate is not.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Jim Nix