SET UP NET HATE PAGE AND WE'LL PROSECUTE YOU; Gardai in warning over racist web content.
GARDAI have warned people who set up racist pages through online social networks they - and those who join up - may be prosecuted.
Sgt Dave McInerney, head of the Garda Racial and Intercultural Office, said Facebook was "absolutely open to prosecution", as are members of such sites once a member of the public makes a valid complaint about racist online material. He said: "It is only a matter of time before a prosecution is brought."
Two anti-Traveller pages were recently pulled by Facebook following complaints led by Emma Maguire, a community worker in Waterford city.
The story features in the latest edition of Changing Ireland, the national magazine of the Local and Community Development Programme, which is published this weekend.
A site called Setting Aside Monday Afternoons To Hunt Knackers had more than 8,392 members, while Promote The Use Of Knacker Babies For Bait had 664 members when it was shut .
One site that remains in existence is I F***ing Hate Knackers with over 300 members.
Members of the sites ranged from secondary school pupils to UCD business and law students to people in the tourism industry.
The Irish Traveller Movement described the three sites as "particularly vile" and "grossly offensive" while Pavee Point and the Waterford Travellers' Community Development Project have lodged formal complaints with the gardai.
The Babies For Bait page was online for 10 months and the man behind the site refused on Thursday to apologise or comment publicly on the issue.
The photo section of his site proposed burning Travellers out of caravans.
A small business, a well-known hotel and a bar in Kerry, had links on its Facebook pages to the Babies For Bait page.
Management at the hotel issued a statement saying they were "unaware" of the connection and once alerted they immediately severed the link.
Meanwhile, Sgt McInerney encouraged people with complaints to come forward. He described involvement in racist online activity as "very harmful" and "a very serious form of crime".
He added: "People don't realise the harm it causes. Such sites can lead to abuse against minorities in the streets."
The GRIO officer's warning that members of hate sites may be prosecuted is an expansion on a message delivered by Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern at a Press Council event in May when he pointed out that "defamation law applies here [online] as well."
Facebook, now boasting 500 million members worldwide, has yet to make a public statement on the issue.
Irish Mirror Comment: Page 10
THREATS The web has been used as a forum to abuse minorities