Earlier this week it was announced that the NAPD will call on the Government to develop a national cyberbullying policy after survey conducted by Amárach Research, found that 16 per cent of students have experienced bullying online, a 33 per cent increase on last year. The recent reports led to debate about the actions the Government intend to take to tackle the increase on cyberbullying.
We came across this and though it might be of interest to our readers.
Topical Issue Debate
The need for the government to outline what action it intends to take to tackle the increase in cyberbullying
Opening Remarks by Minister of State Kathleen Lynch, T.D for Alan Shatter T.D, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence
25 February, 2014
Member(s): Robert Troy
On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, I would like to thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. Cyberbullying is an issue of concern for all of us. In saying this, the Minister is, of course, conscious that there has been increased awareness of this issue as well as increased support for those who are the targets of bullying.
As Members may know, there are already in place a wide range of actions targeted at raising awareness among children and young people, and, indeed, their parents, of the importance of safer internet use in general, and cyberbullying in particular.
One important project in this area is the Safer Internet Ireland Project. This Project is coordinated by the Office for Internet Safety (OIS), which is part of the Minister’s Department. An initiative funded by the EU’s Safer Internet Programme, the Project is a consortium of industry, education, child welfare and government partners that provide Safer Internet awareness, hotline and helpline functions in Ireland. The Professional Development Service for Teachers Technology in Education (a part of the Department of Education and Skills), ISPCC Childline, the National Parents Council (Primary), and Hotline.ie (operated by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland) are all partners in the consortium.
The aim of the Project is to develop national initiatives promoting safer use of electronic media and to enhance protection of the vulnerable, particularly children, against the downside of the Internet, including cyberbullying.
The OIS also makes relevant information available, through its website and on linked sites, and through its publications, to children and young people, and their parents. One of the booklets produced by the OIS focuses specifically on the issue of cyberbullying. In addition, a leaflet entitled ‘Combat Cyberbullying’ was produced by the OIS for international Safer Internet Day, which took place on 11 February 2014. Copies of this leaflet – in soft and hard copy format – are available from the OIS.
The OIS also works closely with An Garda Síochána and, indeed, contributes material for use in the Garda Schools Programme. The Minister would also mention that his colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, has undertaken an extensive awareness raising programme on bullying, including cyberbullying, for use in schools.
The Deputy will also be aware that bullying, including cyberbullying, may constitute an offence under existing legislation. Harassment is an offence under the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997. The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989 was enacted to prohibit incitement to hatred on account of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. The Communications (Retention of Data) Act, 2011 permits the retention of and access to data for the purposes of the prevention detection, investigation or prosecution of serious offences. Cyberbulling may be an offence under any of this legislation.
The Minister is aware that the Deputy has proposed legislation on cyberbullying, and he would like to thank him for his interest and work in this area. However, in November 2013, the Law Reform Commission published its Fourth Programme of Law Reform and, as part of this Programme, the Commission will examine the topic of cyberbullying as an element of the project titled “Crime affecting personal safety, privacy and reputation including cyber-bullying”.
In view of the existing legislation and of the Law Reform Commission work, the Minister does not intend to legislate on cyberbullying at this time. The Minister will, of course, look carefully at the report of the Commission when it is furnished to him.
Finally, the Deputy will recall that the Minister’s colleague the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources announced, at the end of November 2013, that he was setting up the Internet Content Governance Advisory Group to consider, among other things, the emerging issues in the area of online content and the general impact on the lives of children and young people, in particular bullying and harassment online. The Group will take submissions from the public and interested groups, and, the Minister understands, is due to report to the Minister in the summer.
I am interested to hear from Deputies on this topic.