Friday, 18 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Second Stage
I thank the Minister of State for being here this afternoon. The Oireachtas scheduling means that, though I will speak to the amendments, realistically I cannot push them. I do not want to hold the Bill up and I am the only one who has tabled amendments to it.
When the domestic violence legislation was going through, I took a back seat because of the impact some of the conversations in respect of coercive control could have on me. I got a phone call about the images that were shared online before the story went live. I had to tell them to ring me back because two gardaí were in my sitting room with me as I began to look at taking my own case concerning harassment that has been ongoing for five years.
As this Bill was coming through at speed, I sat down to look at it to see how I and people who have had my experience could be protected by this legislation. That is why I will focus heavily on the harassment part of the amendments. The bar is set so high to prove harassment. In the 21st century, harassment looks very different from how it used to. You cannot display all these phone calls you are getting because there is the ability with technology to block people so they find resourceful ways to continue to harass and abuse you.
On my first ever speech in this Chamber in 2016, I was escorted by an usher. I had to be walked to the bus stop. There are two men in the last five years who have not taken me off their radar. I have had many conversations with gardaí and have been trying to find ways to protect myself. I have a firm belief that I want to see culture change and not imprisonment. I am caught between a rock and a hard place because I want to see culture change and I do not always think that hefty sentences achieve that. It is hard to find a balance between advocating for these changes while realising that a huge level of information and education is needed, as Senator Boylan said, in relation to consent. Early intervention is needed to ensure understanding of what is harmful communication and what is not.
Like others, I commend the Labour Party and Deputy Howlin on bringing this forward. It is important legislation and the difference for me between now and the time the domestic violence legislation went through is that I am no longer willing to not speak out of fear that I would put myself back on someone's radar by speaking. I put in the amendments today because it was important for me to correct my silence throughout the last few years on this issue. It was important for me to feel that, when the time to speak came, I could speak with confidence and without fear of the repercussions of my voice.
The Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Department have committed to bringing forward consequential miscellaneous provisions in respect of justice legislation. I would like to be able to have input into that and most of my amendments are in the vein of hoping to frame some of the discourse on those future amendments and conversations and on how we redefine harassment. Showing a garda a postcard saying "Keep up the good work" and trying to convince that garda that it constitutes harassment is a funny place to be in. It is subtle and insidious. I have had my kids getting up to lock the doors at night and I still do not reach the bar for harassment. While harassment is included in this legislation, I do not believe it protects women from harassment, given the way in which it is defined. I would love for Members to look at that in the future and to see this as a huge step forward in beginning to name these issues and in bringing the legislation forward into the times we are in, in terms of how people abuse and control people. I hope I can use today's debate as an opportunity to signal what we need to do going forward.
I acknowledge, as everyone has, Jackie Fox, the work she has done and the investment she has made in using her daughter's tragedy as a way to make change. It is unfortunate that sometimes, it is tragedy that makes change, motivates us and drives us forward but that should not be the case. I also wish to recognise Dara Quigley and her family.
Intimate images or offensive images of somebody at the time of his or her death are covered to an extent by "harmful communications". My childhood friend, Paul Griffin, has been as vocal as he can about the death of his sister Jackie on the M50, when her horrific death was shared online within moments. The family were sent images before they even knew it was their daughter dead on the M50. We need to ensure this type of image is captured in legislation like this. I thank the Griffin family for pushing forward on that becoming a law, making it possible to hold people accountable for a gross invasion of someone's privacy and dignity at the time of death.