Ireland's legal system urgently needs to be updated to protect vulnerable communities from hate crime, according to a new report from the University of Limerick.

The use of the term 'hate crime' in the report refers to prejudice, bias, hostility and bigotry, or crimes committed with such motivation.

The report says existing legislation is inadequate and needs to be updated to cover new offences and to allow the passing of longer sentences.

The authors of the report claim the Irish legal system is largely incapable of combating hate crimes adequately and that there is a glaring need to deal with such crimes efficiently.

The report, 'A Life Free from Fear' Legislating for Hate Crime in Ireland: An NGO Perspective', will be launched today by Labour Senator Ivana Bacik.

Senator Bacik said the study “shows that hate crime is a very real phenomenon in Ireland today, and one which affects many different communities.”

The report was compiled by Jennifer Schweppe of the School of Law and Dr Amanda Hynes and Dr James Carr of the Department of Sociology at the University of Limerick.

Speaking on RTÉ’S Morning Ireland Ms Schweppe said the current criminal justice system is under no obligation to punish crimes of hate and that many hate crimes committed in Ireland are violent. 

She said new legislation will give the criminal justice the tools with which it can challenge hate crime ... and will "send the message to society that we won’t allow people to be targeted because of what they look like."