Friday, 18 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Second Stage
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, who is present, and the Minister, Deputy McEntee, for absolutely prioritising this legislation. It is among the most important legislation to come before the Houses this year. The fact that it was prioritised in the programme for Government sends a very strong message to the perpetrators of these vile online crimes that their actions are not just wrong and immoral, but that they are now illegal and that they will be criminalised for these activities.
There is one plea I wish to make to the Minister of State. He has acknowledged the work of Jackie Fox in terms of highlighting the whole area of cyberbullying. Indeed, credit is due to Ms Fox and many other civil society organisations such as Rape Crisis Network Ireland, the Victims Alliance and the National Women's Council of Ireland, which have done a significant amount of work in terms of ensuring this legislation was a priority. I also acknowledge the work of Deputy Howlin and the Labour Party on this issue.
As I stated in the House two or three weeks ago, the Bill should be known as Coco's Law for several reasons. We need to recognise the significant work done by Jackie Fox in memory of her daughter. Young people in particular may not be attuned to the parliamentary language we use around legislation and it may be that the Bill being known simply as Coco's Law would make it more relevant, particularly for the younger people who we wish to help and support. I ask that this proposal be considered again.
The fact that the Bill creates two new offences relating to the publication and distribution of intimate images without consent is very important. The first of those offences relates to the distribution of intimate images without consent or the threat to distribute those images with the intent to cause harm and the second relates to the actual distribution or sharing of images without consent. The creation of those offences is very important but there are several other important measures contained in the Bill to strengthen the response of the State to harassment, including increasing the maximum sentence for harassment to ten years, provision for civil restraint orders and offences relating to persistent communication about an individual.
All Senators know and have spoken in the Chamber about the significant shock to young women in particular that was caused by the 10,000 intimate images and videos, mainly of Irish women, that were shared without consent. That is the clearest indicator to date of the urgent need to address image-based harassment. Of course, Members also know about other individual situations.
It is very important to note that further action to address harmful behaviour online needs to be taken following the passage of this Bill. Of course, that will be done through the online safety and media regulation Bill, as well as the fact that there will be an online safety commissioner.
There is much to be commended in the Bill. One particular issue of note is the fact that it will be irrelevant that consent was given for an intimate image to be taken. The fact that it will be irrelevant in terms of a case going to court is very important, particularly to young women who ended up with a sense of guilt or shame because they allowed an image to be taken with consent by a person with whom they were in a trusting relationship at the time. I thank the Minister of State for his work. I commend and support the Bill.