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Private Member’s Bill – Private Member’s Bill – Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017

2nd Stage– Dáil Éireann

 

Wednesday 31 January 2018

 

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Seán Kyne):

I am speaking on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Naughten. I welcome the robust debate on this measure in the House. As has been highlighted by Deputies, many tragic cases have appeared in the headlines in recent years that prove the significant harm that can be perpetrated online. We must ensure that our laws can adequately deal with such incidents so that individuals who engage in this type of behaviour are prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law.

 

As the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, outlined, the Law Reform Commission, in its 2016 report on harmful communications and digital safety, identified a number of areas where our response to crimes of this nature could be improved. I thank the Law Reform Commission for its valuable contribution to this debate and for identifying many opportunities for reform.

 

I appreciate that the Bill is attempting to capture many of those recommendations. The introduction of new offences relating to the distribution of intimate images will ensure that those individuals who post images online, or threaten to do so, can be brought to task. Clarifying the law on harassment to ensure that, regardless of the platform used, an individual who harasses another can be prosecuted would be hugely beneficial to victims and law enforcement alike.

 

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, believes the principle of freedom of expression is very important. It constitutes one of the fundamental foundations of a democratic society. However, it cannot be used to deny an individual's right to privacy or to damage one's reputation and other rights. I believe only behaviours that cause serious harm should be criminalised and I believe this Bill is taking such an approach.

 

However, I must echo the sentiments of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, that there is a significant amount of work to be done on this Bill before it can be enacted. As is the case with any legislation involving criminalising behaviour and imposing penalties, the principle of proportionality must apply. I particularly welcome the safeguard provided in section 10 that the DPP must consent to the prosecution of a person under 17 years.

 

As many Deputies know, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is leading the co-ordination of an open policy debate on the subject of online content on 8 March 2018. This event is being organised with the support and participation five other Departments: the Department of Justice and Equality; the Department of Education and Skills; the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation; the Department of Health; and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. My Department is also engaging with the relevant online platforms, ISPCC, parents' groups and other stakeholders which will be participating in the initiative. The overall aim of the event is to raise awareness among all participants of the activities which are being undertaken by the Government, by the European Commission, by industry and by NGOs.

 

The establishment of an office of digital safety commissioner is one of a number of recommendations to be discussed in detail at this event. It is intended that the event will identify issues requiring further consideration and areas where additional co-operation between stakeholders would be beneficial. Following the event, I will engage further with my ministerial colleagues on these matters.

 

I understand from the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, that we will support the passage of the Bill on Second Stage.

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