Thursday, 17 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages
I too want to thank Deputy Howlin, one of the longest serving and widely experienced Members, for the effort he has put in to progress this legislation. I also thank the Minister for Justice and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne.
This came to light in a big way. It was under the surface obviously for a long time. This undercurrent has been out there for a long time. That happens with the evolution of technology. Technology is a wonderful thing. The education system, all of us as parents, Members and laypeople need to be more aware of what can be done with this technology and the long-lasting damage that can happen as a result.
I compliment all the Deputies and groups who put down amendments. I hope the Minister of State will see fit to accept some of them. We must deal with this but it is not going to be easy. I am not saying this legislation with stamp it out because there are sick and vile people who would contemplate using such images, taken in privacy with consent but, due to some dispute or whatever, share them among a few or many. Such a breach of trust in an adult relationship is damaging and dangerous. Recently thousands of such images appeared on social media. We get bombarded with so much stuff on social media that some things can be accepted as normal when they are not. We need to deal effectively with this.
I salute Chief Superintendent Derek Smart in Tipperary for the new unit he has set up in Thurles to deal with sexual crimes in every division. I really am pleased it was oversubscribed by members of An Garda Síochána who are ready, willing and able to take up the cudgels to deal with such crime. It was badly needed. Things have evolved and changed. Members of An Garda Síochána, no more than anyone else, were not equipped or trained to deal with this type of crime. The technology had passed us out. The Garda now has a new unit with specialist training. It took from badly needed resources elsewhere but this issue has to be put front and centre. The value we put on our children, our young girls, mainly, and our boys as well, could not be more important. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. The harmful content and harassment is sickening.
We had our joint policing committee, JPC, meeting last week at which a councillor asked how we advise a parent or a young person affected by this issue. They can go to any Garda station and will be put straight in touch with the unit in question. It is important because there is a stigma involved. We have seen what went on in the past, the horrible events in families and institutions.
I hope this legislation will be robust enough that people will not be able to circumvent it or find loopholes in it. Like Deputy Michael Collins said, custodial sentences should be used in these cases. I am concerned because this morning Deputy Naughten raised an issue about the sexual crimes register not being effective or policed enough with only one check a week. Is that legislation robust enough to deal with the people we are trying to take off our streets, get off our Internet, stop interfering with our lives and stop making money out of harmful content?
I am friendly with a principal in a large school. He has told me that everyone blames the schools and puts more work on them. He is right. The view often is that no matter what happens, the school should deal with it. The schools, however, have so many complex issues to deal with. They do great work and I salute the teachers and the boards of management. It has to be a holistic evaluation from the cradle to grave. Young people need to be aware and educated. Parents and guardians have a significant role and responsibility which is important.
I am certainly aware of girls who get involved in what they think are frivolous activities. Then, before they know it, it is way out of control and they are offered money by sugar daddies or whatever. There are huge issues. One would think it is so simplistic but it is so complex as well. The Rural Independent Group is supporting this 100%. I look forward to the Bill's passage and enactment, as well as the Garda being resourced. It has the units but these must be resourced for it to be totally on top of its game.
I thank the gardaí in Tipperary and elsewhere who looked to join the new sexual crime units. I wish them much success.