8 March 2018, Royal Hospital Kilmainham
I want to thank every one of you for attending and participating in today's discussion, I think it has been a very, very useful discussion in kick starting this whole process. I'd like to thank Caroline Hanley for her excellent way in which she has facilitated this debate here today. I would also like to pay a special word of thanks to Gail Kent for travelling here today to give the European Commission's perspective on the wide ranging subject of online safety. And I think it is an area where we can work far closer together to move this agenda forward.
I'd like to thank my Cabinet colleagues for their support in organising today's event. As the Taoiseach referred to earlier at the recent hearing of the joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, four Cabinet Ministers attended that and presented; that is unprecedented in this country and it shows the priority that we are all giving to online safety and the concerns that are being expressed to each and every one of us by the public in relation to this issue.
Today's event has been coordinated by six Government Departments, a further sign of the Government's commitment of having and demonstrating a joined up approach to online safety.
I particularly want to thank Triona Quill, Dualta O'Brion and Brendan O'Reilly within my own Department and the team that back them up in relation to it. And right across Government the other staff and officials that helped out. I would like to thank the panellists, our table facilitators and those of you that made today's event possible.
But picking up on something Caroline said earlier, I particularly want to welcome the Webwise Ambassadors and I think they deserve a round of applause.
Because far too often we talk down to young people rather than actually talking with them, and I think one of the trends that I have seen from the contributions that I have heard here, and I wasn't here for the full debate, was the need to engage with young people as parents but also as legislators and those responsible for putting standards in place, and I think it is important to have their input into today and their input into whatever comes forward from this event today.
As someone that has been involved in politics for a few years now at this stage, I think one of the most frustrating things that I have seen in politics is the silo perspective in government in relation to issues and challenges. And it is not just an Irish problem, talking to my other 27 colleagues of Council Ministers on Monday it is an issue right across Europe and I am sure right across the world. And it was an issue that was also there in the private sector up to quite recently but that has been broken down in the private sector and has allowed for a huge level of innovation.
I think Project Ireland 2040 is the first real practical step by Government to actually address that silo mentality across Government. As politicians we are often accused of kicking complex problems down the road. What I have tried to do as Minister with complex problems is to bring the sector together, the public sector, the private sector, everyone that is involved in the area and see if we can try and problem solve in relation to an issue.
Today's forum is the third such forum that our Department have led in the last six months in relation to issues - by far the most complex is the one that we are dealing with here today, but it is the same format that we have been using.
I think it is clear from the debate that has gone on here today that online safety is not a neat subject that can be clearly labelled and defined. We all know what we want to achieve and our priority is to keep children safe online. But there is no one road that we can take to get there and we must all work together across stakeholders groups to achieve our common goal.
I think Cillian put it well earlier on when he said "it's about collaboration, about coordination across the different sectors," and Caroline said that in her summing up, it's that sense of coordination and collaboration that is needed across the sector. And I think up to now, many, many people sat back and said look this is not our problem this is someone else's problem. I think the emphasis is there from today and the momentum is there for all of us to work together and to move forward in relation to this.
We also have to bare in mind that the issues and technologies are rapidly evolving so it's not as simple as changing the law and walking away. We must constantly be vigilant and work together on an ongoing basis to make the internet a safer place for our children.
Some people are frustrated and claim nothing will happen that this is just a talking shop here today. And let me remind some of you here today that during the noughties over 500 children disappeared from state care. 90% of them were never found. No one asked questions because they were no one's son, no one's daughter. It was a scandal that went on, when we had the big economic boom in this country and yet it got very little notice, very little publicity.
Some of the NGOs here today know I personally took up this particular issue, I pressurised the Government at the time until we got a proper and secure care system put in place for unaccompanied migrant children and thankfully children are not going missing from state care today in the way that they did in the past. So I have a personal agenda here, I am committed to this issue and I have proven that in the past and I am determined to work with my colleagues across Government to move this agenda forward.
Listening to today's events I am hearing the contributions from the panellists and participants, I was struck by the diverse range of issues in relation to online safety and how complicated these subjects are. I believe that today's event was absolutely necessary so we could all gain a better understanding of each other's position and identify practical steps that we can all take together.
Speaking as a parent I think we need to give us as parents the tools to make informed decisions. Antóin said that we need to encourage in so far as possible parents to become far more active in this area and yes we do need to provide parents with the information, we need to provide parents with guidelines in relation to that.
I think David Stanton earlier on in his contribution made the point that we are as a Government looking for ideas and need to develop those ideas into practical steps.
Cillian also made the point that we need to teach young people and give them the tools to protect themselves and that is important as well. I think that's one thing that came across from many of the contributions today was the importance of education, the importance of awareness raising and the resources to do that. I think resources in relation to law enforcement is another issue that clearly came across today and I think it is something that we need to be very conscious of. So we need to map out now, scope out an action plan and provide more detail that has been required to date, including having a joined up approach in relation to this issue.
Cillian I think spoke about rocks and books earlier and I was thinking about what he was saying. I think the issue here is in relation to the tools and you know when the pen was invented, we didn't ban pens. The pen is mightier that the sword, but it is what is written with that, the output from that is the issue, and I think that is the one thing we need to be very conscious of here and work towards ensuring that we protect ourselves, our families, our communities and most importantly our children.
As the Taoiseach mentioned earlier, by the summer the Government will set out an action plan with an integrated set of measures to ensure that we can support online safety at other levels. A report of today's event will help to inform the development of that action plan.
So I would like to sincerely thank each and every one of you for participating today. I hope that we can all continue to work to address our share of concerns in the future.
And the one thing I'd say and I have said this across Government as well, we have to remember what this is about, this is about protecting the vulnerable and most importantly it's about protecting our children. So let's all work together towards the common goal of protecting our young people and our children on online platforms.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.