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."
    A report from the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, which analyzed the life cycle of a hate crime using data from 2011-2016 found that crimes motivated by hatred of a specific group were "routinely overlooked, minimized or excluded at the points of recording, investigation and prosecution," and that hate elements of crime were often filtered out from the criminal justice process.
    The Immigrant Council of Ireland is currently renewing its calls for effective hate crime legislation, noting the national action plan against racism expired 11 years ago.
    Pippa Woolnough, the council's communications and advocacy manager, told CNN that underlying this problem is the fact that the government doesn't properly track data on hate crimes. While the police introduced new ways to record hate crimes in 2015, Woolnough said, in a report sent to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last year, the government admitted that data isn't being collected in a way that the Central Statistics Office can use.
    "We know that hate crime is a message crime," said the ICCL report's co-author Jennifer Schweppe, senior lecturer in Law at the University of Limerick.
    Schweppe added that in response, "the message we (as a society) can send through legislation is that we do not think this is acceptable."
    "But at the moment we as a society and the legislature are not sending that message -- and that has a number of implications," she said.

    Moving into the mainstream

    Noonan said that racism and bigotry have always existed in Irish society but have "always been in the undercurrent." Now, he added, this type of attitude is "starting to show its face."
    Ireland's lack of hate crime legislation, coupled with a changing socio-political landscape that is seeing far-right narratives entering the mainstream, could be exacerbating racist, xenophobic, bigoted and homophobic attitudes, according to activists and NGO workers.
    Noonan believes that, while these attitudes are held by a small section of Irish society, the surge of the far-right across parts of Europe -- including movements in the UK, Poland,