Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


2:35 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour) | Oireachtas source

In a recent survey we can see that 97% of people in Ireland have access to a smartphone. As the Government knows, many households are awaiting the delivery of high speed broadband. Access to the Internet brings countless new opportunities and it is no exaggeration to say the Internet is shaping society in a variety of new ways. Many people, especially young people, socialise via the Internet and for many, sharing their lives online has been completely normalised, although the technology was not available to the previous generation. However, the Internet also has a dark side. Young people are often in a phase of self-discovery at a time when they are involved in nearly continuous online activity. We have repeatedly seen cases of older men using Internet websites to fool young people into sending intimate photographs of themselves or even arranging meetings, with frequent reports of sexual assault or even rape as a result. We also know that some people use the Internet to hurt others, for example, in the taking of revenge by putting up compromising photographs for the whole world to see. There is growing evidence of a strong link between cyberbullying and the online harassment of young people and those young people indulging in self-harm and even suicide. Ireland's teenage suicide rate is already among the highest in Europe. Tragically, recent Central Statistics Office figures show that 20 to 30 young people die by suicide annually in Ireland.

On 16 May 2017 the Labour Party's Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 was passed on Second Stage in this House. In a debate with cross-party support the Government pledged full co-operation to bring legislation through the House to regulate the area of online harassment and bullying. Since May last year dozens more young people have tragically lost their lives by suicide. Too often they were the victims of online bullying and harassment and many more are suffering today. The legislation is urgently required. We would happily accept any amendment from the Government side. For example, as an Opposition party, we could not table a proposal to establish a digital safety commissioner, a concept everybody now supports. It is possible to have these fundamental issues addressed in the coming weeks: we have waited too long. My question is simple. Will the Government facilitate the early enactment of this much-needed law?


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