Ireland has a hate crime problem and its legislation is not fit to deal with it

Ahmad Subhani, security officer at the Maryam Mosque in Galway, assesses damage from the July attack.

Galway, Ireland (CNN)In the middle of the night, Imam Ibrahim Noonan answered the phone and heard an unfamiliar Irish voice.

The man on the line told Noonan he didn't agree with Muslims in general, or want them in Ireland. He said he didn't want Irish culture to change and that he belonged to a far-right group, according to Noonan.
The caller went on, telling Noonan he had attended a meeting where people said they were planning to attack his mosque and harm him. The man explained that while he agreed with the group's ideology -- "no mosques, no Muslims, no immigration" -- he didn't condone physical violence. Then the line went dead.
    Noonan saw the call as a clear warning of an upcoming attack and he reported it to police.
    In late July, the Imam's Maryam Mosque in Galway was vandalized. The perpetrators smashed several windows, wrecked Noonan's office, and destroyed the video surveillance system.
    A spokesperson for the Irish police told CNN in a statement that they were "investigating a burglary."
    But Noonan said nothing was stolen from the property so treating the attack as a burglary was "insulting" to the Muslim community. The incident was targeted and premeditated, according to Noonan.
    The Maryam Mosque was attacked in late July. Vandals had previously attacked the mosque with rocks in 2017.
    Unlike most other countries in the European Union, Ireland has no purpose-built hate crime legislation and the government doesn't gather national statistics on hate crime, racist attacks or discrimination.
    In Ireland, while a hate motive may be an aggravating factor that can contribute to stronger sentencing in criminal cases, there is no specific law that covers hate crimes in the criminal justice system, with each sentence a matter for the presiding judge.
    The 1989 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act does make inciting hatred on account of race, religion, nationality, ethnic background membership in the Traveller community or sexual orientation an offense. However, it is generally only applicable to hate speech, with only five convictions under that legislation in the past 30 years, according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland.
    The Irish Department of Justice and Equality told CNN that the Minister for Justice is "particularly conscious of concerns around hate crime," and that, "in tandem with the review of the 1989 Act, the Department is currently undertaking research on how other countries have legislated for hate crime to determine international best practice in this regard. This important work will inform the development of Ireland's legislative and policy response to this challenging issue."