Friday, 18 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister of State back to the Chamber. As the Cathaoirleach outlined, Fianna Fáil is delighted to support this important legislation which is referred to as Coco's Law, in memory of Nicole Fox Fenlon. We are thinking of Nicole's family at this time, particularly given the time of year, and our thoughts are with them.
The Bill provides for the creation of two new offences in respect of the publication and distribution of intimate images without consent. The first offence concerns the distribution of intimate images without consent, or the threat to do so, with the intent to cause harm. The second relates to the distribution or sharing of such images without consent. It also provides for a number of other measures to strengthen the State's response to harassment, including increasing the maximum sentence for harassment to ten years' imprisonment, civil restraint orders, and providing that harassment may be the result of persistent communication about an individual rather than directly to an individual's face.
Recently, there was an outcry following a case that was widely publicised. Unfortunately, this case was not an isolated incident, and there have been numerous reports of individuals, the vast majority of whom are women, who have been targeted with such abuse. Yesterday evening, on the way home, I listened to Senator Hoey who is present today, as she outlined on the radio, her experience with harassment. I sympathise with her and I admire her bravery in that regard. The level of abuse to which the Senator was subjected is not good enough and simply should not be tolerated by anyone. For that reason, I wish to commend Deputy Howlin, Senator Bacik and the Labour Party for their great work on this issue.I am delighted that further action will be taken in the month ahead to address harmful behaviour online through the online safety and media regulation Bill. I welcome that Bill and I look forward to it coming before the Houses.
On a more general note, I too am sometimes depressed by the level of abuse generally on social media. I use some social media platforms, mainly to pass on information to the public rather than to give my opinion on any particular item. I am amazed at the level of abuse that comes back in my direction. I suppose it is part of the game we are in to a certain extent but it is sad nevertheless. I often think that if I posted online the winning numbers for next week's lottery draw, there is no doubt that certain individuals would come back with a range of abuse and personal attacks aimed at me. All Members have to accept such abuse, although maybe we should not have to accept it. It is very sad that it has come to that point. Unfortunately, that is the world in which we live today.
I very much welcome the Bill. I am delighted that we in Fianna Fáil will be 100% behind it.