herald

Thursday 17 October 2019

Gardai closing in on racist trolls who threatened family

Fiona Ryan and Jonathan Mathis in the Lidl ad with their son
Fiona Ryan and Jonathan Mathis in the Lidl ad with their son

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said gardai are hunting the trolls who allegedly posted racist abuse online, forcing a young family to leave Ireland.

Fiona Ryan from Co Meath, her fiance Jonathan Mathis, from the Cotswolds in England, and their one-year-old son appeared in a television and billboard campaign for supermarket Lidl last month.

However, a number of racist messages were posted on social media about the mixed-race family and they have since left the country after receiving a threat that left them fearing for their lives.

Contact

Speaking as he launched the garda's new diversity and integration strategy in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, Mr Harris said gardai were working to identify those behind the abuse.

"We remain in contact with the Ryan family. We are now in the process of identifying individuals, identifying those we believe are suspects of offences that may have been committed.

"Then we will go through a process of interviewing them, gathering evidence and reporting that matter to the DPP.

"There's an investigation ongoing with the outcome of bringing individuals to justice," he said.

For the first time the new strategy gives gardai a working definition of what constitutes a hate crime.

It is defined as any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be, in whole or in part, motivated by hostility or prejudice based on age, disability, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.

Non-crime hate incidents - such as abusive name calling on the street - will be recorded on the gardai's Pulse computer system.

Mr Harris explained the decision to record non-crime incidents, adding: "Individuals can suffer many low-grade, low-key sorts of incidents. It might be name calling on the street and general harassment and we want to be clear what exactly is happening.

"We know there's under-reporting. We want to encourage reporting. If something happens, they [a victim] feel uncomfortable with it, they feel threatened, they should report it to An Garda Siochana."

He said the force would be recruiting more gardai and members of the Garda Reserve in the coming years and said he was "looking for individuals of all backgrounds to join us".

The Department of Justice is currently reviewing the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989.

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