Seanad debates

Friday, 18 December 2020

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


10:00 am

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for coming to the House. The sharing of intimate images without consent is a serious issue, which warrants legislation and severe penalties. We need to call it out as a criminal offence and we need to hold those who offend in this way to account. I am very pleased to join with other Senators and to support Coco's Law today. I am thinking primarily of Jackie Fox, Dara Quigley's family and all the NGOs that have campaigned on this issue, such as the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the Victims Alliance and the National Women's Council of Ireland. I am glad the Government is supporting this legislation. It is not ideal to be dealing with this issue in this way, and I certainly bow to the greater legal minds in this Chamber, but I am glad we are dealing with it and we need to get on with the business of doing so because it is important.

By passing this legislation, we are not going to stop online abuse or harassment and we are not going to bring every bully to heel. In my life, the bullying and harassment I have experienced has been as much the human face-to-face or behind-your-back type of stuff that goes on in real life as harassment on digital platforms. It is important that the House and the Government legislate on this issue because we need to set a marker and set the bar. The law as proposed will call out such activities, state that they are unacceptable, criminalise them, identify penalties and provide anonymity for victims. It will also set, as standard, the fact that there may have been or was an intimate relationship as an aggravating factor, because that level of betrayal of trust is a real violation. That is an aggravating factor, be the harassment physical, online, or written. In this instance we are dealing with harassment on digital platforms, which is important. This legislation will not be perfect but it is important.

It is also important that we recognise that this legislation will not fix the problem and that we do not create that false impression. There is a real job to be done in education. When we use digital platforms we all have an opportunity to exercise the powers and facilities they give us. We need to report, block and delete anything that is offensive, not just to us but to each other because we all follow each other and see the trolls. We should not subscribe to the platforms and digital outlets that encourage clickbait, harassment, hate speech and abuse. The Internet - and the digital environment - amplifies human behaviour, magnifies and disseminates it in a much broader global way. When we all participate in the Internet, we should do so in the same way we would if we saw that abuse happening beside us in the street. In that case, we would intervene and would say "That is not nice, please do not do that in front of me. Please do not speak to somebody else like that." When we do something like that, we are asserting and championing good values in that space.

I also support the comments of my colleague, Senator Byrne. We should hold to account any platform that does not operate to a decent moral standard, including Facebook, Twitter or The Journal. Common decency is all any of us are looking for or have a right to expect. Further legislation will be introduced in respect of that matter, which we also need to tackle. It is not acceptable that they continue to operate very profitably on the basis of anonymous, abusive and what in many cases will now be criminal contributors.


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