Other Questions - Cyber Bullying.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 667 No. 2

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  6.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan  Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan   asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern   his strategy to combat cyber bullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37470/08]

  39.  Deputy Liz McManus  Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus   asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern   the measures he will put in place to safeguard children against Internet bullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37244/08]

Deputy Dermot Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 39 together.

Tackling Internet downside issues is a complex business and continues to set new challenges for all those charged with protecting against the downside of the Internet. Increasing access to powerful communication tools such as social networking websites, video and photograph sharing sites has brought a new dimension to child protection issues such as cyber bullying. Cyber bullying refers to bullying carried out using the Internet, mobile phone or other technological devices. I have no function in the regulation of broadcast media or phones, but I will outline the child protection arrangements in place in respect of the Internet.

[299]The Office for Internet Safety, OIS, has been established as an executive office within my Department and has taken over the formal role of the Internet Advisory Board in terms of monitoring industry self-regulation on illegal content on the Internet. The establishment of OIS is an important step in building the best possible protection for the community at large, and in particular for children, from the downside of the Internet. The OIS has responsibility for Internet safety, particularly on combating child pornography; overseeing the operation of the internet hotline system —www.hotline.ie— for dealing with reports of illegal content on the Internet, which will continue to be operated and funded by the Internet service provider industry; involvement in Internet safety awareness campaigns; and monitoring compliance with the Internet service provider industry code of practice.

The OIS will be advised by an Internet Safety Advisory Council, which will be the successor to the Internet Advisory Board. The advisory council will be drawn from representatives of the key stakeholders in the statutory, industry and community sectors and will support the work of the OIS. I will be announcing the composition of the new council in the near future.

The Deputy may be aware of the booklets in the “GET with IT!” series previously published by the Internet Advisory Board. There are three booklets in the series, namely, a parents’ guide to new media technologies, a parents’ guide to filtering technologies and a parents’ guide to social-networking websites. These booklets give an overview of new technologies, help parents to understand and use websites and help them to safeguard their children on-line.

The issue of cyber bullying is a complex one which transcends the home or school environment. The Office for Internet Safety, in a joint initiative with the National Centre for Technology in Education, NCTE, O2 and Barnardos, has developed a new “GET with IT!” publication entitled “A guide to cyberbullying”, which will be published next month. This booklet is intended to increase awareness of all aspects of cyber bullying in the new media world and to help parents and their children understand the often confusing issues of new media technologies and tools which children and young people are using for this behaviour. The booklet will also provide information for persons who are victims of cyber bullying on how such problems can be reported to the relevant authorities.

I would also refer Deputies to www.webwise.ie, a website developed by the National Centre for Technology in Education, an agency under the Department of Education and Science. This website, which is the Irish Internet safety awareness node and receives funding from the EU’s Safer Internet Programme, provides resources to help ensure that children’s on-line activity is positive and safe. NCTE has also developed policy guidelines and advisory notes for schools and parents which deal with the issues of Internet bullying. It also operates the www.watchyourspace.ie website which provides advice for young people on how to manage their on-line activities to avoid problems.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Minister should send that reply to John Murray.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It is not that bad.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  I welcome the awareness campaign but I must put it to the Minister that in the circumstances it is insufficient. What steps will the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or any other Department take towards ensuring website providers play their part? The Minister does not seem to have any ideas, plans or activities other than a voluntary code for parents and children and an awareness campaign. What about the service providers? How does the Minister propose to regulate them and ensure they do not contribute by reason of the provision of their software to Internet bullying, which has become a real [300]problem for young people, causing angst and trauma in many families? I hope every effort is made to examine what is best international practice.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I ask the Deputy to familiarise himself with what the industry and Internet service providers are doing on www.hotline.ie. I launched an element of their website a number of months ago and all of the Internet service providers are participating, apart from one which has an objection to participating in this and believes that law enforcement is an issue for the Garda. To be fair to the Internet service providers in this country, they have come together in conjunction with us, EU funding and their own funding to make a substantial effort to highlight public awareness on the issue. There is also an industry code of practice. The Office for Internet Safety will monitor compliance with the code of practice and be involved in Internet safety awareness campaigns.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Does Deputy Rabbitte wish to speak?

Deputy Dermot Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It is a bit complex for Deputy Rabbitte.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  It is too opaque for me. I get bullied by the Minister every day without any protection.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy Rabbitte is technologically disadvantaged.


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