Friday, 18 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Second Stage
I am taken by the various speeches I am hearing in the Chamber today. Some of us are very much looking forward to the season of goodwill - the celebration of a time when the entry into the world of an innocent child brought so much hope to humanity - and yet what we are hearing today is about a real loss of innocence in our society and a lost of decent childhood for many children who should not be exposed to some of these particularly modern harms.
The more I have looked at this legislation, the more I favour its essential provisions, but also the more I worry about flaws in the legislation and the more indignant I feel about the fact that this legislation is being put through at all Stages today. Several colleagues have said that this is a Bill that will have to change which is masking the fact that there is no excuse for rushing through a piece of criminal legislation on the week before Christmas at all Stages. I have already spotted at least two issues that gives me concern and this Bill only passed the Dáil yesterday. This is not emergency financial legislation. Nobody will be done an injustice. We do not know when the Bill will commence - at least, I do not know. This could have been concluded in the new year. I was told by a Fine Gael colleague that we all supported this because, apparently, at the group leaders' meeting, everybody agreed. I am also told it was suggested unless one wants to come in next Tuesday and Senators shied away. We are bringing our politics into disrepute every time we do this. The parties in government must take a lead. It is wrong to give people no opportunity to listen to Second Stage speeches before they consider amendments. It is wrong to give Senators no time between Committee Stage and Report Stage. The Government is contributing to the contempt that people have for the Oireachtas and for politics and it needs to stop doing that. I say that to my own group as well. We have to stop rushing through legislation in this way. This is important urgent legislation but, in fact, the Government is dishonouring it by giving it so little scrutiny.
For example, why is the recording of intimate images without consent not being criminalised in section 2? Somebody could record something in order to inflict harm on a person, but not distribute it. Is that a mistake or is there a rationale for it? In section 3, there is a saver for somebody who is involved in prosecuting offences in distributing or passing on images, but has consideration been given to the possibility that someone, for example, a medical person, might send an image to a colleague, perhaps to get his or her opinion, or to educate a student about something, and maybe the person did it without consent? Maybe they should not. Maybe it should be a regulatory or an administrative offence, or maybe a civil offence. Has this even been thought through in this rushed legislation that will pass all Stages today? Maybe there is a very good answer to the concerns that I have raised, but that is not good enough. Seanadóirí need an opportunity to hear what the Minister has to say to make a freer decision then about whether they want to bring forward an amendment. I am not going to dignify this pathetic process today by bringing forward amendments when it is quite clearly on green paper. It is intended that this will be done and dusted. Our views, as Senators, do not matter. This is a joke, and yet it is a joke in the context of some really serious and important legislative change which I welcome. It is a Bill that gathered dust for almost three years and then, suddenly, because there is publicity in the media and controversy, it is all happening at once. This is the wrong way to do it.
There was no mention in the Dáil, for example, that in the United Kingdom 30% of victims of these incidents are men. That is an important point. This is legislation about protecting women and men, and yet there was no talk about the UK experience.
There is also the question of what would happen where a person accesses images that were taken originally with the person's consent and put up on a website, perhaps for the purposes of making money, and then somebody - perhaps an immature young person - right-clicks and shares that information. Is that person to be convicted of a crime under this legislation? I think the answer to that is "Yes", but if it is to be a crime to share, for example, legal pornography that has been accessed, should it also be an offence to put it up in the first place? Should it be an offence to put it up for purchase, because I get the impress, and I am being advised, that one of the reasons this proviso is in here is that some of those most vocal about their images being shared online on the Discord platform had uploaded their own intimate images to a subscription website and their complaint was that they had not been paid? Are we shoring up a section of the pornography industry here by the way we are doing this? I do not like any of this stuff. I support protective laws. I supported the criminalisation of the users and the purchasers of sex, and others followed my on that issue over the past decade and now it is the law, but perhaps it follows from that that we need to criminalise the sale of such images, particularly when we consider its link to prostitution and, indeed, the trafficking industries. There is no possible chance to tease these issues through here today.
I favour laws that will protect people in this area. I would not oppose this legislation but I suspect it is very flawed. I favour education about consent, and the more of that the better, but there is a cultural problem in our society and politicals are trying to address it by creating more and more laws and talking more and more about the need to educate people about consent. That is all good and well, but it is not going to be enough. It will not protect people against harm because there needs to be a conversation about how we treat each other as human beings. It enters into the domain of morals and values, and if we lack the courage to have that conversation none of these laws will protect our society.