Thursday, 17 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages
I wholeheartedly support the Bill and amendments such as the one put forward by my colleague, Deputy Murnane O'Connor, that add strength and substance to it. To abuse and harass someone online is one of the most odious acts anyone can commit. It says a great deal about the negative attributes of someone's characteristics. I have seen it happen many times at home. I have seen it happen on WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook. It happens in the realms of social media, often hidden behind a cloud of anonymity. Others do not hide behind the cloud of anonymity and are quite out there, so to speak, in what they do. I have received my share of online harassment. As a public representative representing communities and also as a teacher who has taught many children over the years, I know of many people who have been subjected to online harassment. Fortunately for many of us who are at the receiving end, there is a little "mute" or "ignore" button we can press. This means that when we see the banana skins thrown in front of us, we can step over them. There are many people who engage in harassment. There are others who may not be able to escape that net so easily. I pity those who are closer to those who perpetrate this kind of harassment.
This is a timely Bill. It reflects where modern society has gone. There was a time, probably in my father's time but it existed when I was growing up, when a bully was someone who stood up in the school yard and issues got sorted out by going to the teacher. Sometimes, small boys and girls had to settle disputes in their own way in the yard. Online trolling, harassment and abuse, however, has reached a more murky level. People hide behind a cloud of anonymity and think they can treat people in whatever way they choose. When I was teaching up to February of this year, we had a very simple mantra for the children in my class, which was that they should screenshot something, show it to someone and, ultimately, report it. For children, that could be reporting to a teacher or another grown up but for adults it is important that there is also a legislative mechanism whereby they can report online abuse and harassment. If we were walking down the street we would not accept a stranger haranguing, harassing and abusing us so why should we have to take it on WhatsApp, online, etc.?
I am glad the Bill is before the House this evening. I hope that, without further ado, it will get support across the House. In the months and years ahead, the people who are guilty of trolling people online and trying to disrupt people's normal way of life should not have a right to anonymity. Their names should be made public. We should know their identity.
I know of several people who perpetrate this abuse. Some of them might see this on my social media feed later when I put it up. With or without legislation, they need to cease and desist because their actions in a community and among people who are trying to live normal lives can be very damaging. I hope it gets the full support of the House.
I will conclude by wishing a very happy Christmas to the Ceann Comhairle and all the staff in Leinster House who have made the past number of very challenging months as good as they could possibly have been, in particular those staff who come here to the convention centre. Somehow, after a century of Dáil Éireann, they have managed to move all operations from Kildare Street with huge success. I wish each and every one of them a very happy Christmas. I hope 2021 will have many positives in store for all of us.