The Department of Justice has published a new report on hate crime legislation today.
Minister Helen McEntee has unveiled plans to overhaul the laws that cover hate-based offences following a public consultation carried out by her department.
The Justice Minister declared that the existing legislation is not fit for purpose, and the characteristics covered by the new laws will be expanded to include gender and disability.
Minister McEntee said she plans to make hate crime a criminal offence and address the fact that currently perpetrators cannot be convicted such an act.
The new legislation promises to be robust enough to still allow for freedom of speech but there will be consequences for people who knowingly share or retweet hate speech - even if they didn't initially post it.
The Justice Minister has committed to bring draft legislation to Cabinet by Easter, with the hope of enacting it by 2022.
Last year, An Garda Síochána introduced a working definition of a 'hate crime' as part of a Diversity and Integration Strategy.
'Aggravating factor in cases'
Earlier, Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said the new hate crime legislation is required to vindicate the rights of victims.
She told Newstalk Breakfast that it is particularly needed for people "who are subject to abuse and assaults because of their ethnicity or their sexuality, for example, and who currently don't receive the vindication or the recognition".
Senator Bacik said: "People are being prosecuted under our assault law but there is currently no mechanism in our law for the motivation of the offender to be acknowledged through the criminal justice system.
"That means that victims' experiences are not vindicated.
"The first point is to vindicate victims' experiences where they are subject to a particularly egregious attack because it's motivated by hate in some way on particular grounds.
Senator Bacik added that hate crimes can generally attract tougher penalties as it can be seen as an "aggravating factor" in cases.
She explained: "The normal rules in sentencing for assault will apply but there will be an understanding and a specific provision in hate crime law that for a person who carries out an attack that is motivated by hate on some ground, that is an aggravating factor in the attacks."
She said that while judges may consider racism or other motivation as an aggravating factor in sentencing, there is no statutory framework backing this up.
Senator Bacik said: "That's unfortunate because it means there is a lack of clarity in our sentencing laws which we need.
"We need to ensure we have statistics on hate crime, we currently don't.
"We need to ensure hate crimes are in law to show the public denunciation and that the public disproves of this behaviour."