Seanad debates

Friday, 18 December 2020

Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Second Stage


10:00 am

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

We are really talking about the ugly reality of human behaviour when we start sharing stories of individual harassment. I know there is probably not a person in the Chamber who has not experienced it. I am really sorry to hear of the length of harassment that Senator Ruane is going through and I really wish her success, if not with the current legislation which is abysmal, but with this new legislation. I hope she can bring it to fruition with a happy outcome for her.

Nobody in the House, our local Government colleagues, our Dáil colleagues or probably anybody in any walk of life has not suffered in some way, shape or form on the medium we call the wonderful world of social media and the great invention that is the Internet. The legislation will go if not the full way then a long way to address many of the concerns we have. There are two aspects to it. One is the sharing of images, and the stark reality of how harmful it can be was probably really highlighted to us all only a couple of weeks ago when we saw the dump of tens of thousands of very personal images that caused great hurt and particularly exercised the young women in Ireland. It did in my household anyway. I really welcome this aspect of the Bill.

I want to talk about the other aspect of the Bill, which is the harmful harassment and bullying aspect. While the legislation is very welcome, and particularly the penalties are very welcome, I do not believe we really fully appreciate the extent of where it will go. When we hear about people being bullied we think they are being bullied by a certain stereotype of person we have in our head. We think the perpetrators are all adults. We think they are all in a box, and that when we do shine a light on them and point the finger at who they are that the two year sentence will be well justified, and that it will be grand and everything will be great.

We spoke this morning about politics being about the personal and I can only speak about the personal experiences I have had with regard to bullying. The bullies are not all adults because we had an incident in my house a couple of years ago, which was greatly helped by schools and the Garda but there was no happy outcome because the bullies were 13 and 14 year old girls. These girls were vicious and relentless. When we looked them in the eye in front of their mammies and daddies butter would not melt in their mouth and they were really sorry but the Snapchat messages we read back to them were relentless.

Senator Craughwell will said earlier it is awful for a parent to let their child go to bed with a mobile phone. In some cases when a child is being bullied it is the only friend they have. That does not make sense but when we are in the throes of it, with a child we love the bones of, and not being able to help them because what we want to do to help them is probably not legal, we are left with absolutely no tools in our kit. Children aged 13 or 14 years do not actually realise the damage and psychological harm they are doing to the child they are bullying. I am not sure the legislation, welcome and all as it is and I really mean that, will actually fix this problem.

I am encouraged by the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy McEntee, when they say there is a need for educational programmes and a need for awareness. It is not just the 14 year old or 13 year old children who need to be made aware of how harmful the communications they are snapping at 1 a.m. 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. are because they do not go away, and the harmful impacts they have on another 13 year old child's psyche. We end up doing the full circle of why we are all here today. It is because a young woman, and there are plenty more like her but we all know this girl by name today, was not able to cope with the harmful communications she received relentlessly and she took her own life. It is because of the ferociousness of her mother and the unwillingness of her mother to allow those people to get off the hook that we are all here today celebrating a young woman's very short life but a legacy that will live long after the legislation is passed. It is absolutely right and fitting that it is called Coco's Law in her honour.

I am really not sure this will do the trick, which is why I am so glad it is not a stand-alone piece of legislation. It is not something that is to be put in a drawer or on a shelf that we will get back to in a few years time because I absolutely believe when we start to monitor the bullying online, which we will now start to be able to do because of this legislation, we will also be able to start to measure it. The ugly reality of it is that its perpetrators are not some awful men and women who have no feelings. In many cases we are going to discover they are children who just do not realise the harm they are actually doing. This is an even bigger problem we need to address.

I want to add to the cloud that Deputy Brendan Howlin is probably travelling home on today because it is so well deserved. Often, when I had the privilege of being a Minister, one of the first things I used to say during legislation was that no Minister or official in the Department had a monopoly on wisdom and this is a perfect example of how this is true.I thank Deputy Howlin. I thank the Labour Party. I thank everybody else who have co-operated in getting this Bill passed.

This is only the beginning. It will not fix the problem that we are unearthing. I believe that when we properly take the ugly face of the problem that we are talking about, we are all going to be so ashamed of the society, of the communities and of the children that we are rearing. That is not true of all of us but it is definitely true of some.


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