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Minister Denis Naughten hosts Government’s Open Policy Debate on Digital Safety

Embargo, 00.01am, Thursday 8 March 2018


The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten TD, will today (Thursday, March 8th) host the Government's Open Policy Debate on online safety at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin which will be officially opened by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.


The Open Policy Debate was a direct action following a meeting convened by Minister Naughten, with the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan TD and the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone TD in late November to discuss the issue of digital safety.


More than 100 delegates and speakers working across industry, non-profit organizations, government and the EU will attend and participate at today's event. 


The Open Policy Debate is being led by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment with the support of five other Government Departments including Justice & Equality; Education & Skills; Business, Enterprise and Innovation; Health; and Children and Youth Affairs. 


In preparing for the event the Department engaged with key relevant stakeholders including the online platforms, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), parents' groups, academia, young people and other key groups to ensure a broad mix of representation and involvement. 


The overall aim is to raise awareness among all participants of the work and activities being undertaken by Government, the European Commission, industry and NGOs. It will also identify any gaps and opportunities for closer co-operation.  The ideas and feedback generated on the day will feed into and underpin future actions and policies by Government in this area.


An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said: "Today's Open Policy Forum provides a valuable opportunity to discuss how we can better protect our young people online. While the internet has opened up a world of opportunity it also presents new challenges and potential risks. Government action alone cannot remove all these risks.  A wide range of stakeholders including parents, educators, tech firms and law enforcement have roles to play in making the internet a safer place."

The Taoiseach went on to state that "Decisions on how best to provide minimise the risks associated with online communications must recognise the global nature of the internet. In this context it is essential that the work of national governments can align with and support efforts at a European or even a global level to promote online safety. I look forward to hearing the outcome of today's discussions which will inform a Government action plan on online safety to be published this summer."


Ahead of the debate, Minister Naughten stated that: "As the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and as the father of four young children, online safety has been a personal policy priority for me since taking office.  I believe online safety is one of the greatest challenges we face today yet it is important that our response to the risks is realistic and robust while acknowledging the many benefits that the internet brings.  The online and offline worlds are one and the same in the lives of today's teenagers. We need to work with them and listen to them so that our solutions are credible in their eyes.  Today's event will improve awareness and a better understanding of the measures being taken by each of these groups, and identify ways in which we can work better together."


Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton said "it is important that every effort is made to ensure that the great benefits that the internet and communications technologies have to offer our citizens, can be explored and availed of with confidence and in safety. This is an enormous challenge in circumstances where the technology is ever evolving and where there will always be individuals intent on exploiting it for their own nefarious purposes. There can be no room for complacency in this area and hence the importance of today's gathering where we can hear about the actions already taken at Government and non-government levels to address online safety issues.  More importantly however, it provides the opportunity to hear from participants what in their view are the prevailing concerns and the further steps necessary to address them".


Minister for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen, said "Digitisation is increasing on a vast scale and will continue to make a fundamental difference to how we go about our everyday lives.  While it is important that Ireland remains one of the EU's digital frontrunners and positions itself to take advantage of the considerable opportunities that digitisation brings, we must do all we can to provide the necessary safeguards that ensure the online safety of all our citizens, particularly children."


Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone said "Getting this right is a big challenge for Governments worldwide. The internet operates across borders. The challenges we meet often arise from decisions taken outside our jurisdiction. Some solutions are outside our control. However, we have the advantage that many of the world's leading technology companies have a significant corporate presence here in Ireland. They can and must work with Government."


Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Mental Health and Older People, Jim Daly said" Childhood and teenage years should be happy – they should be a fun and carefree time when individuality flourishes. While this is generally the case, it can for some be a very difficult and vulnerable time for myriad reasons. The report of the National Youth Mental Health Task Force was aware of the importance of listening to the voice of young people, and keen for that voice to be reflected in the outcomes of its work. As part of the Task Force process, numerous engagement events with young people were carried out, and the recommendations reflect the outcomes of these events.The development of all aspects of mental health policy and services remains a priority for Government. This includes protecting one's mental health, whether young or old,  and co-operating with other agencies on specific measures to promote online safety."


Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton said "I greatly welcome the opportunity to participate in this event. My Department is keenly aware of the challenges faced by educators, parents, and children, in relation to online safety and we are keen to support schools in any way we can. There are extensive training and curricular supports and resources available to assist schools in the development of policies and practices on the safe use of the internet. Information and resources are also available for parents, teachers and children through the Webwise Internet Safety Initiative. The online safety of our children is a matter, where many government departments have a role, as well as parents and the wider society. The engagement that this event facilitates will allow all of us as stakeholders to further our awareness of the issues and initiatives in the area and see where we need to improve.  I look forward to the positive outcomes from this engagement, in ensuring that all of our children can develop the skills and competencies necessary to negotiate living in the 21st century."


The proceedings will be live streamed on the Department's website at the following link:


Twitter hashtag: #onlinesafety #digitalireland


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