I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. As he will know, I take the issue of bullying and cyberbullying in particular very seriously. Tackling the issue of bullying and bullying in schools is a key commitment in the programme for Government. That is one of the reasons the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald and I convened an Anti-Bullying Forum recently - on 17 May - to explore ways to tackle the serious problem of bullying in schools. The forum, which was very well attended and thought-provoking, considered issues around all forms of bullying, including homophobic bullying, cyberbullying and racist bullying. Remarkably, this was the first time the Department of Education and Skills, together with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, had hosted a dedicated forum on this issue.
Alongside the forum, I established a working group to consider what further actions are required to tackle bullying in schools. I also called for submissions from stakeholders and interested parties. It is a measure of the interest and concern in this area that more than 65 submissions were received. The working group has since met with service providers, State agencies, representative groups and individuals and with colleagues from Scotland and the United Kingdom. I have asked the working group to submit its action plan to me by the end of this year. It will come in a draft form and it will then be circulated to the various participants for signing off. Realistically we will have it as an operational document by the commencement of January but the definitive work will be done by the end of this year. That group is examining measures to tackle all forms of bullying, including the specific issue of cyberbullying.
Recent tragic events have highlighted that advances in technology enable bullying to take place 24-7 on and off the school premises and that is the point to which the Deputy referred, which I accept. Malicious messages can now be sent via mobile telephone or posted on social media sites where they can be viewed by hundreds and sometimes thousands of other people.
Technology has opened up a new world of possibilities and the opportunity to communicate more widely and more quickly than ever before but, as we all know, this brings benefits but also, sadly, risks. While traditionally children and young people could identify who was bullying them, the use of technology means that sometimes they cannot. Some young people may not see the Internet as the real world, and therefore do not see what they text or post as having the same impact as something they might say or do. Research shows that disconnecting the Internet or taking away a young person's telephone is not the answer.
While schools can block access to inappropriate sites through the school's broadband network, this does not stop children accessing websites and sending messages through their own devices. Therefore, adults, and in particular parents, as the Deputy said, need to be as engaged with children and young people about their behaviour when using their mobile telephone or going online as they are when children are out playing, socialising or at school.
In terms of the responsible use of technology, Internet service providers, mobile telephone operators and those running social networking websites also need to be part of the solution. However, cyberbullying should not be seen as just a problem of technology. Underlying all forms and types of bullying is a bullying behaviour or attitude that must in itself also be addressed.
A number of effective educational approaches are already in place which integrate parents as active facilitators of their children's digital media literacy and foster an ability in their children to self-manage potential risks in online environments. The Department has funded the Webwise integrated education initiative since 2006. This initiative focuses on raising the knowledge, skills and understanding around Internet safety of children, parents and other responsible adults, at school and in the home. Resources have also been developed for use as part of CSPE, SPHE and Stay Safe programmes. For instance, Be Safe Be Webwise, the first educational programme of its kind in Europe, was designed to address the personal safety needs of our young people online and to help them become safe and responsible Internet users for life. For 2012, the Garda primary schools programme has introduced a new initiative called Respectful Online Communication. This initiative addresses the personal safety that arises through communicating using new media.
These are just a few examples of the school-based work that is going on around cyberbullying and how these issues can be addressed through the school curriculum. It is clear the curriculum is an important tool in helping children and young people to develop positive attitudes and in providing them with a wide range of opportunities to develop their knowledge, understanding and respect for diversity and an assortment of strategies to protect themselves from bullying.