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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 Jan 2013

Vol. 789 No. 1

Education (Welfare) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill before the House, which will be debated this evening and tomorrow, sets out to amend the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 to enshrine in legislation obligatory anti-bullying policies that must be implemented on a mandatory basis by school boards of management so there are enhanced procedures in place to deal with bullying whenever it occurs at school. In order to inform the debate, it is important to list in some detail what this Bill sets out to achieve. If adopted, the amendment to the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 will provide for binding, mandatory measures to be imposed on the boards of management of schools to ensure that the welfare of a child is adequately safeguarded concerning all forms of bullying that may occur within a school.

Section 2 offers an updated definition of bullying and includes reference to cyberbullying and some of the vulnerable at risk groups that often find themselves the target of bullying. Section 3 amends the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 by introducing a new section in which the onus of responsibility is placed upon the board of management, and the elected officers of that board, to adopt and implement an anti-bullying policy in every recognised school. Section 3 also lists the procedures to which a board of management must adhere when a complaint is made by a pupil or their parent or legal guardian, or when a member of staff knows of a pupil or other person within the school who is being bullied. This new section also provides parents or legal guardians with the security of knowing the exact measures being taken by the board of management in relation to the individual case. It also ensures that regular and accurate communication is kept between the officer and the parent or guardian by enshrining into law set timeframes which must be adhered to.

Section 4 introduces a new requirement on the Minister for Education and Skills to introduce regulations based on existing guidelines, which will have the effect of giving those guidelines legal status in their current form. The Minister will also be obliged to review those newly introduced regulations every two years. This Bill, therefore, introduces a legislative framework that should be implemented in conjunction with a whole-school approach to bullying, which is underpinned by strategic interventions at a school management level.

I readily accept that the legislation we have published is by no means the finished article. There is plenty of scope to refine and improve its content. I want to place on record, however, that this is a genuine attempt to implement progressive legislation that, if enacted, will protect pupils and teaching staff in schools across this State. There can be little argument that legislation in this area is long overdue. For 20 years, successive governments have failed adequately to address this issue and it is simply unacceptable that the existing guidelines to help schools deal with bullying date back to 1993 and have no proper legal standing. The current procedures in place to deal with bullying in a school setting are at best an ad hoc solution to what is a complex issue that manifests itself in many different ways.

In 1993, school boards of management were handed the responsibility of preventing and countering school bullying, with no additional time or resources being allocated. This was an ineffective response to bullying which unfairly burdened boards of management with a role they were ill-equipped to fulfil. The situation has been further compounded by the failure of Government to legislate properly to allow schools to have a clearly defined set of procedures in place to help teachers and management deal with this issue in a thorough and professional manner. We also need to provide a clear definition of bullying that reflects the changed nature of society in the last 20 years, by recognising the various forms it can take as well as the motivations that influence this type of behaviour.

Bullying is a complex and difficult issue that can manifest itself in many different ways. It can leave long-lasting physical and mental scars on its victims. At worst, the physical and psychological damage to an individual can, as we have sadly seen in recent months, be a significant factor that leads to self-harm and-or death by suicide. In recent months, the media have highlighted the awful tragedy of teenage suicides associated with bullying, which is clearly the worst possible scenario. Far more common, however, is depression associated with bullying, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders and deliberate self-harm that all too often lead to truancy, absenteeism, early school leaving and, in some cases, individuals being forced to change schools.

The implications for teaching staff who find themselves victims of bullying can be just as profound. Stress related illnesses arising from bullying prevent many teachers from functioning properly, leading to enforced time off work as well as disillusionment and frustration in the workplace. All of this takes a considerable emotional toll on the child, teenager and teacher concerned. In turn, it has wider implications for the extended family circle and society in general. In many cases, there is also a direct financial cost to the State in terms of medical interventions and having to provide substitute cover for teachers out on sick leave as a result of the emotional distress caused by bullying.

As legislators, we need to do more than pay lip-service to what is happening in our schools because words alone are meaningless without having in place the type of robust safeguards that protect the well-being of children and staff in a school environment. This is something on which we can all agree. We have only to examine the international best practice of other countries where they have applied evidence-based strategies in response to bullying in schools and the workplace to understand the importance of legislative reform. When considering this Bill, we should also strive to achieve a co-ordinated approach to implement reforming policies on an all-Ireland basis because bullying is as relevant an issue north of the Border as it is here in the Twenty-six Counties.

I cannot overstate how important it is that we learn from the anti-bullying measures and procedures that have been implemented in other countries. Norway, for example, is a country with similar demographics and population to Ireland. It is recognised as being a world leader by the way in which it has dealt with this issue. A key to that country’s success has been to ensure that, from the outset, up-to-date and effective anti-bullying policies have been in place. Such policies are underpinned by legal reforms made in the Norwegian education act of 2003. By adopting this type of strategic approach to the problem, experts such as Professor Erling Roland have concluded that the enhanced efforts made in Norway have led to decreased incidence of bullying behaviour in schools. In short, those efforts have had tangible and meaningful benefits to the health and well-being of children, young people and teachers. It is something we should seek to emulate.

Closer to home, having a mandatory anti-bullying policy in the Six Counties since 2003 has helped to ensure greater co-operation between relevant groups and people with expertise in this area, so that a more coherent strategy has been central to the efforts to address bullying in schools. This has been a significant step forward which has helped to improve matters in that part of the island. It surely makes a great deal of sense to expand this type of initiative and have both jurisdictions working together towards a common goal, on an all-Ireland basis, with clearly defined outcomes. It is difficult to imagine why a school in Newry must have an anti-bullying policy based on legislation, while a school in Cork does not.

In a broader context, legislation to tackle bullying is important in establishing a healthy and positive school ethos. The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, to which Ireland is a signatory, states that children have a right to feel safe at school. This begs the question of how this is possible if bullying is not addressed effectively.

This of course opens a broader debate that must be considered because there is a good deal of evidence to show that young people learn what they see and experience in schools, as well as what is formally taught to them. Schools should be places of mutual respect and dignity, where people feel safe and free to achieve their potential as citizens.

When I discussed this Bill with various stakeholders, the response has been positive in most cases but some concerns have been expressed regarding implementing legislation on bullying, one of which was it may over-burden teachers and boards of management at a time when there is a scarcity of resources. While I acknowledge the genuinely-held concerns of those individuals and groups, especially when so many important front-line education services have been cut over successive budgets, I believe the opposite to be the case. I believe having in place clear and precise procedures and regulations will greatly benefit teaching staff and boards of management, as well as the children under their care. This is because, as most professionals working in this field will confirm, when there is confusion or a lack of clarity with regard to a school’s procedures for anti-bullying action, more time is wasted by students and staff as they attempt to deal with an incident whenever it occurs. This lack of clarity in the absence of clearly defined procedures ultimately results in a greater likelihood of conflict and anguish developing between the victims of bullying and their families on one side and school authorities on the other side, which can often make a difficult situation a good deal worse. Additionally, there also is the adverse emotional consequences for the target of the bullying and his or her family because of the delay in dealing with an incident and the unnecessary stress this can cause. The intention of this Bill therefore, is not to over-burden schools, boards, principals and teachers but rather is to help them in their work by providing the necessary clarity that is so important when dealing with such a complex and difficult issue.

One of the significant flaws in relying solely on the 1993 guidelines is they were drafted before the advent of the Internet and the social media which have, for all their undoubted benefits, provided a new and highly invasive way for those who bully to target their victims. Within this Bill, we have attempted to define the various types of bullying because it is extremely important to be clear on what is meant by bullying and cyberbullying. We are now at a position where the older members of the "always on", "digital native" population are in the senior cycle of second-level education. It is inappropriate to expect schools to be guided solely by a document drawn up in 1993. Members must update and extend their consideration to include the technological advances that have developed subsequently. The question as to whether cyberbullying can push a young person too far is moot, as recent media reports have shown this to be the case. My party also has attempted to define other at-risk groups to protect the targeting of people because of their sexuality or identification as a member of an alternative subculture, such as goths, punks, skaters and so on. The fundamental ethos underpinning this Bill is the safeguarding of children and assisting already hard-working principals and teachers in undertaking this important work. I am sure the Minister of State will agree this is an issue that transcends party politics and is of great importance to every parent and educator in this State. Should the legal reform at the core of this Bill be implemented, the present Administration and future Governments also will be obliged to continue to introduce measures to resource and assist schools in preventative practice. That is the reason Sinn Féin has included a section whereby the Minister for Education and Skills would review the proposed new regulations set out in the Bill on a two-yearly basis. This week’s announcement by the Minister that schools will be obliged to keep a formal record of bullying incidents, that patterns of bullying will be tracked and schools obliged to react, certainly is a welcome if long overdue development. The announcement of mandatory reporting and plans to circulate a report template is a step in the right direction and has been linked to a similar successful procedure in Sweden. It also is a constituent part of the school’s anti-bullying plan in the Norwegian Zero programme, which, like the home-grown programme in this State known as the Erris Anti-Bullying Initiative, has a far wider-reaching set of resources and procedures. I therefore call on the Government and Opposition parties to support this Bill which, if enacted, will provide a legal framework to ensure there are clearly-defined procedures in place to help teachers and school boards of management better manage the issue of bullying in schools.

I will conclude by quoting Nelson Mandela, who, in his foreword to the World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health of 2002 stated:

Violent cultures can be turned round. ... Governments, communities and individuals can make a difference. ... We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in society – a life free from violence and fear. ... We must address the roots of violence. Only then will we transform the past ... legacy from a crushing burden into a cautionary lesson.

The culture of bullying can be turned around. Members must address the root causes of bullying and only then can they provide children with a life free from violence and fear of bullies. Members must act now to strengthen the laws in order that schools are better equipped to deal with bullying and in so doing, they will have provided enhanced protection for this and future generations of teachers and children.

Deputy O'Brien is sharing time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

While I am delighted to see the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, in the Chamber and I thank him for his attendance, in a way I am sorry the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, is not present and I will tell Members the reason. It is now approximately 432 days since I brought to his attention and that of this House an incident between a then 13-year old child and a principal of a school in Sligo, resulting in the young boy's refusal, since 2009, to go back to school. I gave the Minister documentary evidence detailing the medical, psychiatric and psychological impact on the child. I outlined how the child had threatened to run away from home or worse. I detailed the efforts made by the boy's parents to resolve the issue through contacts with the principal, the school board of management, the National Educational Welfare Board, various offices and officials within the Departments of Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs and with politicians from all political parties.

The Minister, Deputy Quinn, stated in this Chamber on 16 November 2011 that he was concerned about the case detail and would take a personal interest in the matter. He stated "the amount of time this impasse has existed is simply unacceptable in a democratic republic". I took heart from those words and perhaps I was politically naive but when I left the Chamber that night, I was hopeful that he would do something to right this grievous wrong and would introduce policies and the necessary legislation to ensure there could never again be a recurrence of such an incident. I do not know what happened between the time the Minister left the Chamber on the night of 16 November 2011 and my submission of some follow-up questions, approximately three or four weeks later, but it quickly became apparent that the status quo would be maintained, that boards of management would continue to investigate themselves when accused of wrong­doing and that the Minister and the Department of Education and Skills would continue to keep an arm's-length distance between legislators and policy-makers and those who deliver services. This is not delegation of responsibility but is abrogation of responsibility.

In a country and at a time when one can no longer claim ignorance of the damage done by unregulated institutions, how can Members, with any credibility, continue to perpetuate an education structure in which boards of management are self-regulating, self-controlling, self-accounting, self-investigating and self-reporting?

This Sinn Féin amending Bill does not seek to overthrow the whole education system. Nor does it seek to make sweeping changes to the way boards of management work nor to the relationships between boards of management and the Departments of Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs. All it seeks to do is provide for binding, mandatory measures to be imposed on the boards of management of each school to ensure that the welfare of a child is adequately safeguarded with regard to all forms of bullying that may occur within a school. The Bill also places a requirement on the Minister for Education and Skills to introduce legislation to give legal status to existing guidelines, and to review the guidelines every two years to ensure they are being strictly followed in order to ensure the safety and well-being of each pupil in a school in Ireland.

Unless the Minister can demonstrate to me and others within and outside the Dáil that he proposes to quickly propose legislation - not guidelines - to ensure the current legislative and reporting flaws are addressed, he should support this Bill as an honest basis for further discussion and deliberation with all groups. The child I spoke of in my introduction is now a young man of 16 who remains psychologically damaged. He continues to be educated at home at the expense of the State and that is because of our failure as legislators to provide him, his parents and others like him with safeguards to ensure his safety and well-being. He has been denied access to redress when things go wrong, and he, his parents and others like him are being denied justice. Please let this young man be the last such case.

I thank Deputy O'Brien for introducing this important Bill in Private Members' time. The content of this is based on the proposed Education (Welfare)(Amendment) Bill 2012, and it is a product of long and thorough consultation with the relevant stakeholders. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Education (Welfare) Bill 2000 in order to impose mandatory requirements on boards of management in schools to adopt counter-bullying and preventative measures. Having served on boards of management, I know how important this will be.

The Bill introduces a new section in which the onus of responsibility is placed on a board of management and the elected officers of the board to adopt and implement an anti-bullying policy in every recognised school. I use this time to highlight the need to tackle homophobic bullying, and in doing so I pay tribute to BeLongTo, members of which are in the Visitors Gallery tonight. That group focuses particularly on meeting the needs of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, young people.

Why should we focus on homophobic bullying? It is one of the most widespread forms of bullying in Irish schools according to the report Equality and Power in Schools: Redistribution, Recognition and Representation, by Kathleen Lynch and Ann Lodge. According to the United Nations World Report on Violence Against Children, most bullying is sexual or gender-based, targeting girls or boys or those who do not fit into the perceived sexual and gender norms. Consequently, homophobic bullying affects all young people and particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people.

Dr. Stephen Minton, a psychologist at the anti-bullying research and resource centre at Trinity College Dublin, cites Canadian experts indicating that the majority of bullying research fails to address sexual orientation, and although homophobia is a prominent feature of school yard bullying, it is also one of the most unchallenged forms of bullying. Dr. Minton argues that, in short, as a frequently observed form of prejudice-related bullying, it makes sense at every level to prioritise the addressing of homophobic bullying.

The Trinity College anti-bullying centre indicates that 16% of all Irish second level students were targets of bullying but in the case of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, much higher rates are experienced. In a major study funded by the HSE entitled Supporting LGBT Lives, it is indicated that 50% of LGBT young people experienced homophobic bullying, with 40% subject to verbal threats from fellow students and 25% physically threatened by peers. Of most concern is the fact that 34% of young LGBT heard homophobic comments from teachers.

We must send out a loud and clear message this evening that homophobic bullying is wrong, will not be tolerated and must be stopped. Urgent measures are needed to address homophobic bullying for four reasons. Homophobic bullying has been documented as one of the most pervasive forms of bullying in Irish schools. LGBT young people experience bullying at a much higher rate than other young people and Irish research shows that homophobic bullying is a significant casual factor in self-harm, suicide and other mental health difficulties among LGBT young people. Significant numbers of Irish teachers have reported that they find homophobia far more difficult to address than other forms of bullying.

The Sinn Féin Bill should receive cross-party support as it is in line with Government policy and thinking. In the 2011 programme for Government, there was a commitment to encourage schools to develop anti-bullying policies and particularly strategies to combat homophobic bullying and support students. This was reiterated by the Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, when he announced in May 2011 the establishment of a working group comprising all relevant sections of his Department, along with non-governmental organisations involved in this area and the education partners that would help draft a road map to eliminating homophobic bullying in our schools.

We all want to do the right thing and people are concerned by the issue. The Government and my party are involved but we are two years into a government term. As my colleague stated earlier, if the Government is not bringing forward legislation, we urge it to accept this Bill. I know of cases in my constituency where young people are refusing to return to school. One girl in the Mountrath area is refusing to return to secondary school because of serious bullying. Her life and that of her family has been turned upside down and it is having a serious effect on the girl at a critical stage in her life. She is 14 and it is an important yet vulnerable time in her development. We urge the Government and its Deputies to support this Sinn Féin Bill.

Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an Bhille tábhachtach seo. I commend my colleague, Deputy Jonathan O’Brien, and his staff for bringing forward this Bill. In opposition we are often accused of being critical or condemnatory for its sake alone but this Bill is surely an example of a representative attempting to bring forward a real and positive measure which will deal with a growing problem in our society. I must also thank Dr. Stephen Minton, an expert in bullying who lent his knowledge to the Bill’s formulation.

The Bill sets out to put a legislative responsibility on the board of management of schools through an elected officer to adopt and implement an “anti-bullying policy”. These procedures then must be abided by following a complaint by a pupil or legal guardian, or a teacher who is aware of a problem. The Minister must also from this Bill introduce regulations based on existing guidelines, making them mandatory. The Bill will help to combat bullying, giving support to those who are bullied and attention to those who bully and create an environment where pupils can feel protected and safe in their school and throughout their school days.

We know all too well the cost of allowing the present state of affairs to continue. Bullying is not an easy issue to deal with. Its causes are many and symptomatic of a society which breeds carelessness in how we treat others. However, something can and should be done.

We all know of stories from our local communities of children who have taken their own lives following prolonged periods of bullying. Such events which are so tragic it is hard to consider them fully occur in every part of the country. Young, vibrant lives that are full of potential end because bullying was allowed to continue or was not even noticed. The experiences of the children in question may have been different but one thing is certain - more could and should have been done. The lesson we must learn from these deaths is that we must ensure more is done in the future.

Children who take their own lives as a result of bullying make up a small proportion of the children who dread going to school every day because of the loneliness they experience and the mistreatment and anger inflicted on them by people who are supposed to be their peers. School is supposed to be a bastion of knowledge, exploration and excitement where young people learn how to work and play and be the person they will grow into. It is not meant to be a cold place of fear and anguish or one in which they will, as adults, look back on with anger and pain.

Those who are assembled here are political representatives and activists because we seek to carve out a better world for our children, one in which they will be happy and safe from harm. This is not an easy task, but this legislation is a step that would help us on our way. Schools must protect children and never treat bullying as a phase or something to gloss over.

Those who face abuse are often those who are marginalised. Traveller children face deep discrimination not only in school but also in their daily lives. My local area has a large number of families from the Traveller community and I know all too well the problems Traveller children face in schools. Coming from a disadvantaged background with low educational attainment, they are already on the back foot and grow up in a society in which slurs against their people are commonplace. Bullying is a reality for them every day, as it is for many children from immigrant backgrounds. The problem is not confined to people from certain backgrounds, however, and crosses all sections of society. Homophobic and transphobic bullying, for instance, is a form of discriminatory bullying that requires a specific focus and strategy of its own to complement general anti-bullying policy.

The Bill seeks to make action on bullying mandatory. It would make the Minister responsible for ensuring this took place and empower him or her to enforce a system in which bullying would not be tolerated or ignored. Experts have been clear that a lack of clarity in procedure and indecision in the face of bullying significantly hamper the resolution of a bullying problem. Bullying must be broadly but clearly defined in order that no child who needs help is placed outside this definition and that there is no equivocation about whether bullying is taking place. Deputies from across the political divide have met families who have encountered bullying and must introduce measures to prevent it. I commend the Bill to the House.

As my party's spokesperson on health and children, I urge Deputies on all sides, Government and Opposition, to support the Bill in the name of my colleague, Deputy Jonathan O'Brien.

Awareness of the extent of bullying in society has greatly increased in recent times. We are also more aware and knowledgeable about the effects of bullying on victims. As well as making the lives of children in school a misery, bullying can have seriously detrimental long-term effects on their mental and physical health and well-being in later life.

Last October the Oireachtas cross-party group on mental health, of which I am a co-convenor, organised a briefing for Oireachtas Members on bullying and mental health. It was addressed by Dr. Stephen Minton of the anti-bullying centre in the school of education at Trinity College Dublin who is also the co­author of Cyber-Bullying: The Irish Experience, Dr. Tony Bates of Headstrong, the national centre for youth mental health, and Ms Rose Conway Walsh of Erris, County Mayo, whose community development project is developing a youth mental health and well-being support structure for the county. The briefing was most informative and confirmed the critical importance of youth mental health. A key point is that resilience is best developed in the early years of a person's life. Moreover, the skills children develop at a young age will help them to cope better as adults. This applies to children's and young people's mental health in general but is especially relevant in the context of bullying. It is as important to equip children to respond to bullying or the threat of bullying as it is to seek to eliminate bullying in so far as that is possible, especially in schools.

Last year Headstrong published the "My World Survey" of more than 4,300 young people aged between 12 and 25 years, the most in-depth survey of the mental health and well-being of adolescents and young adults in the State. The survey was wide-ranging and among the key questions asked were some on respondents' experiences of bullying. More than 40% of the young people surveyed reported that they had been bullied at some point. Of these, 30% reported that the bullying had occurred in the past year, 14% in the past month, 4% on a weekly basis and 3% on a daily basis. With regard to where adolescents were most frequently bullied, 77% indicated in school, 5% over the Internet or by text - 2% and 3%, respectively - 5% at home and 13% elsewhere. Nearly half of females reported that they had been bullied compared to 40% of males.

School is clearly the main site where bullying is being experienced and endured by young people. Even accounting for a crossover between the figures for school, on the one hand, and the Internet and text messages, on the other, the figure for bullying by electronic means seems relatively small, especially given the publicity this form of bullying receives. However, we must also take into account the fact that for those who experience the most intense and persistent forms of harassment and intimidation, bullying by text and on the Internet is extremely distressing, making it seem that, even at home, the victim does not have a safe refuge. Consequently, we have seen terrible tragedies, with young people who are victims of this form of bullying being pushed to the extreme of taking their own lives.

Among the key themes in the survey, the following are relevant in the context of bullying: one good adult is important to the mental health of young people; not talking about problems is linked with suicidal behaviour; those who share their problems enjoy better mental health; and many young people in distress are not seeking help. Parents and schools need to encourage and facilitate children and adolescents to step forward and speak out if they are experiencing problems and feeling distress, irrespective of the level at which it occurs. It is also crucial that leadership is given by schools. In that context, if there is any hint that speaking out is in any way discouraged or made difficult or if there is any prospect that a school would try to minimise, ignore or conceal the reality of bullying, the victims are condemned to silent misery and the culprits facilitated.

The Bill is both a health and an education measure. The health of individual young people is greatly impaired by the experience of bullying. Their education is thwarted and a school where bullying is ignored or not properly addressed cannot be a fit place in which to educate children. Only a few short months ago the people endorsed in a referendum an amendment to the Constitution explicitly recognising for the first time the rights of children. For this amendment to have meaning, we must see its expression in terms of both legislation and practical measures to vindicate the rights of children. The Bill is such a measure, providing as it would a basis in law for practical action in every school to combat bullying. I urge the Government to accept the Bill, facilitate its passage, improve it, as required, and implement it, thus enhancing the rights, health and well-being of all children. In opposing it, as it has indicated it intends to do, the Government is again kicking the can down the road, which will result in untold misery and tragic consequences.

I understand the Minister of State is sharing time.

Yes, with Deputies Paul J. Connaughton, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Dominic Hannigan.

While the Minister for Education and Skills and I acknowledge the best intentions and good faith of Deputy O'Brien and his colleagues in tabling this legislation, the Government will be opposing this Bill for reasons that I will outline in due course. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on bullying and I would like to apologise on the Minister, Deputy Quinn's behalf for his unavoidable lack of availability for this debate.

We all know that bullying can ruin a young person's enjoyment of some of the most important years of his or her life. In extreme situations, it can also tragically be a factor in a young person taking his or her own life. Given the severe consequences that bullying can have, it is important that, as a society, we take every opportunity to raise awareness about this issue and send a clear message that no form or type of bullying is acceptable anywhere at any time.

The specific commitment in the programme for Government to help schools tackle bullying, particularly homophobic bullying, underlines this Government's commitment to addressing the issue. It was with this in mind that the Minister, Deputy Quinn, along with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, convened a forum on anti-bullying on 17 May last year. Remarkably, this was the first time that the Department of Education and Skills, together with the newly established Department of Children and Youth Affairs, had hosted a dedicated forum on this issue.

The event, which coincided with International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, provided an opportunity to bring together a range of stakeholders to consider what changes to existing policies and practices in schools might be necessary to tackle bullying effectively. We also wanted to identify practical steps and recommendations that could be taken to improve how schools approached and tackled bullying.

A wide range of expertise and experiences were shared on the day and more than 100 stakeholders attended, including experts in the field of bullying, support groups for victims of bullying, representatives from the schools sector and NGOs, such as the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, and BeLonG To Youth Services, whose presence this evening has been acknowledged.

The range of perspectives and ideas presented on the day demonstrated that this is a complex and challenging issue, one to which there is no quick fix. There are many facets to bullying behaviour. For example, modern technology is constantly providing new and more pervasive mechanisms that can further enable this type of unacceptable behaviour. The use of technology can enable bullying to take place at any time of the night or day and can often mean that the child or young person's home is no longer a safe haven, as the Members opposite outlined.

Alongside the forum, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, established a working group to consider how best to tackle all forms and types of bullying in schools. On the day of the forum, he issued a call for submissions from all interested parties and stakeholders. He invited students, teachers, parents and all other interested parties to submit their views on this topic so that the working group could take full account of all of the issues and viewpoints involved. It is a measure of the concern about bullying that 67 submissions have been received from the education partners, representative groups, experts and individuals. The working group has considered these submissions, along with the outcomes and recommendations from the forum.

During the past few months, the group has also been consulting with a range of stakeholders as well as with colleagues in Scotland and England. The group has finalised an action plan recommending further measures that can be taken to tackle bullying in schools effectively. I am happy to announce in the Chamber that the Minister, Deputy Quinn, will launch the action plan later this week.

The group's work has confirmed that a key element in preventing bullying in schools is the presence of a positive, inclusive school culture where everyone in the school community understands what bullying is and its impact on those involved. Effective strategies for preventing and tackling bullying are based on a whole-school community approach. Research shows that anti-bullying policies and practices work best where the entire school community, including school management authorities, staff, students and parents, play their part and are resolute in maintaining a climate of respect for all. It is clear that the curriculum is an important tool in helping children and young people to develop positive attitudes and in allowing them to develop their knowledge, understanding and respect for diversity, as well as strategies to protect themselves from bullying.

Instilling respect for diversity in our children and young people is also a major issuing in tackling prejudiced-based bullying, including homophobic bullying. Unfortunately, research tells us that homophobic bullying is widespread in schools. Research also shows that LGBT young people are at a higher risk of bullying and that this form of bullying is one of the least challenged in our schools. For this reason, there is a specific commitment in the programme for Government to address the serious issue of homophobic bullying in our schools.

The Ombudsman for Children published a report on bullying late last year. The report is based on consultations with more than 300 children and young people from the ages of ten years to 17 years. It provides a helpful insight into how young people believe bullying should be addressed. It emphasises the view that children and young people should be involved in the development of their schools' anti-bullying policies. Such policies should be written in language and formats that are appropriate to students' ages and abilities and also in ways that are interesting and engaging so that children will pay attention to the messages and information being communicated to them.

The Bill before the House is flawed for a number of reasons, notwithstanding the good intentions of its proponents and sponsors. The approach taken whereby one individual is tasked with responsibility for implementation of the school bullying measures is entirely inconsistent with international and national best practice relating to the prevention of and intervention in bullying incidents in schools. It is widely accepted that a whole-school and community-based approach is essential to underpinning effective counter-bullying measures in schools.

The Bill places a significant and impossible reliance on just one individual member of the school board of management, who would be legally solely responsible for a range of functions, including the overall implementation of the school's anti-bullying procedures. This is contrary to the principle of corporate governance to which all boards of management are required to adhere and to the significant body of research that says that all members of the school community must be involved and responsible for dealing with bullying in schools. There is also a grave and genuine risk that placing legal responsibility solely on one person in this way might be seen as absolving other members of the board, staff and school community from dealing with this critical issue, even where the best intentions attend on such a measure. Schools must have appropriate intervention strategies in place to respond to incidents of bullying. Having one member of the board of management responsible for this does not and will not underpin a whole-school community approach.

The requirements of the Bill to hold a board meeting and notify parents within days of each reported incident is also unworkable and potentially counter-productive. The consequence of such a requirement would be considerable bureaucracy, at the very least, involving multiple board meetings - weekly or perhaps even daily - a significant amount of paperwork and the potential for legal challenge in the event that the stringent requirements were not adequately met.

We do not want schools to become so focused on meeting legal requirements and timelines that the real focus of addressing the bullying incident or behaviour in an effective and appropriate manner is actually diminished. For the same reason, the Government is not in favour of the reporting requirements suggested by the Deputy in this Bill.

Any attempt to implement these proposals in their current form would cause unnecessary difficulties in schools and would be unworkable. They could also be counter-productive. The mandatory reporting to parents suggested by the Deputy might also cause particular difficulties for some young people. I refer in particular to young people subjected to homophobic bullying. Young people who are, or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, LGBT, may not feel comfortable discussing their sexuality with their parents and may not wish the perceived reasons for bullying to be made known in that way.

If a young person feels that his or her family might not be supportive, regrettably, he or she might feel particularly vulnerable if the school is required to report the circumstances of bullying to the parents. That particular risk has been acknowledged for instance in the state of Massachusetts, where mandatory reporting was introduced as part of a legislative response in 2010. Specific guidance was issued by authorities there on notifying parents when students are bullied based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. In addition, research shows that it is most important in responding to incidents of bullying that the child or young person affected is consulted and is involved in devising an appropriate response.

Turning to the issue of the national guidelines on bullying policies, there is widespread agreement that the Department's guidelines on countering bullying in schools must be updated. Deputy O'Brien raised the issue, which I accept is a fair point. While the guidelines can be adapted by schools to meet their particular needs and most of the content remains valid, the fact that they were issued in 1993 means that their revision is long overdue. The definition of bullying must be updated. I am aware that the working group is making recommendations in that regard.

A number of interdepartmental initiatives are in train which are related to bullying and must be considered in revising the bullying guidelines. That includes the development of the Emotional Health and Well-being: Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools, which the Minister, Deputy Quinn, intends to publish in the near future. As Deputy O'Brien correctly stated, nor do the existing guidelines make any reference to cyberbullying, given that they were produced in 1993. While the guidelines themselves require to be revisited, and will be, it does not follow and the Minister does not support the provision in Deputy O'Brien's Bill to turn the existing guidelines into regulations at this time. That would not be appropriate. It would be preferable to focus our energies on updating the existing guidelines in consultation with the education partners.

Deputy O'Brien might also note, that while statutory underpinning of the current guidelines is somewhat indirect, there is nevertheless some statutory support and endorsement for them. All schools are required, under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, to have a code of behaviour which has been drawn up in accordance with the guidelines of the National Educational Welfare Board, NEWB. The NEWB guidelines make it clear that each school must have policies to prevent or address bullying and harassment, and schools must make clear in their code of behaviour that bullying is unacceptable. Legislation is already in place to ensure that schools have anti-bullying policies. We must now proceed to update the Department's anti-bullying guidelines to make sure they fully meet the needs of modern schools, and provide up-to-date guidance for schools on how best to develop and implement anti-bullying policies and procedures at individual school level.

I also wish to highlight the fact that this is not just a school problem: although it does exist in schools, it is not confined to the school environment. Not all bullying behaviour takes place in the physical school environment itself. Bullying behaviour can occur wherever children and young people gather, including in the home, as Deputies have pointed out, and in wider family and social groups such as youth clubs and during sporting and recreational activities.

It is clear that parents and wider society have an important role to play in preventing and tackling bullying. The bullying behaviour that is taking place in schools, and the prejudices that underpin some of the bullying, is learnt and copied from what children and young people hear and see in their everyday lives. That includes in the home, in the community and through the media. Therefore, we all have a responsibility, right across the community, to model the type of respectful behaviour that we would wish to see in children and young people.

It is clear that schools, parents, Government, civil society, industry and children and young people themselves, must play their part in preventing and tackling bullying. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, will launch the action plan on bullying later this week and he will outline his full response to the proposals of the working group at that time. The Minister looks forward to working with the education partners and other stakeholders to reinvigorate and strengthen the approach to preventing and tackling bullying.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill. As someone who has worked with young people during what is a period of great transition in their lives, I am only too aware of the devastating impact bullying can have on a person's life. Everyone in this Chamber is aware of the devastation that bullying can wreak in the lives of people of all ages, but young people are particularly vulnerable. I welcome the Government's determination to take action on bullying. While the Bill might not be the answer it provides a welcome opportunity to discuss the issue.

Students in schools are particularly vulnerable to bullying and often feel cornered in a situation where they are made to feel increasingly powerless. The Government must aim to send a strong signal, through a wide range of initiatives, to anyone contemplating bullying in a school setting that it is a most serious offence and one which will be properly documented and dealt with at the highest level. School days should be among the happiest times of a person's life and given that the Government requires people to attend school, it behoves us to ensure the school environment is as welcoming as possible for all. While homophobic bullying is a particular worry, the avenues for bullying have multiplied with the increasing presence of the Internet in all our lives, be it via smartphones, camera phones and a variety of websites that can be used for negative purposes by bullies. Research demonstrates that young gay people are at a higher risk of bullying and the sad fact remains that homophobic bullying remains under-reported and is one of the least challenged types of bullying in schools. Cyberbullying has laid waste to the lives of many teenagers, sometimes with particularly tragic consequences. Education is needed in a variety of settings to ensure that young people are fully aware of when they overstep the line in terms of bullying. Education on bullying is not just needed in the classroom; all adults must be educated on bullying, and such programmes could benefit many schools, homes and workplaces throughout the country.

We must remember that many children are coming to school from homes where derogatory comments about gay people and people of a different nationality are commonplace and therefore, education must begin in people's homes and in particular in the homes of school-going children. Parents must recognise that children will mimic their actions and if their actions are racist or if they indulge in bullying in the home or in cyberbullying, then their children are at risk of being taken to task for the very actions they have learned from their parents. The adults of tomorrow are learning from the adults of today and if respectful behaviour is what is required in a school setting, that is only made possible if it is demonstrated in a home setting. The Bill, while reflecting the fact that every Member in the Chamber is committed to tackling bullying, might not be the answer but the best way forward is one which reflects best international practice, which requires that the onus for tackling bullying is spread as widely as possible through all parts of the community.

I am happy to contribute briefly to this debate. I thank Deputy O'Brien and Sinn Féin for bringing it forward. I am also aware that the Minister will launch his action plan on Thursday, which I welcome. He and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, have been proactive in this area. A total of €500,000 in funding has been put in place to implement the action plan.

As a former secondary school teacher, I have seen many forms of bullying over the years, be it in classrooms, schoolyards, playgrounds and pitches. It was easier to deal with because it was visible, verbal or physical. It happened in view of the teacher or supervisor and from that point of view it was easier to nip it in the bud and come to the aid of the student being bullied. Obviously, we are all grasping with the social media, as has been evident in the last few months, and how to deal with it there, be it on Facebook, Twitter or texting. It is secret, silent and difficult to detect. Furthermore, it is a 24 hour per day event in which the victim is persecuted, often silently and with tragic consequences as we are all too aware. Regardless of whether it is this Bill or the action plan, what we need in the short term is a unified, identifiable and implementable approach to dealing with this, whereby the student or person being bullied is comfortable with accessing help at short notice without fear of recrimination.

I read the Bill earlier today. In a school, the big issue is students bullying students. However, there are other relationships in the classroom and I have often seen instances of students bullying teachers. That is obviously not the major issue but it is one that must be identified, because it can wreck people's careers as well. With all these telephones in classrooms there can be consequences for teachers. I mention that because it is another area to be considered. This issue is developing so fast it is hard to get ahead of the curve but that is one issue that must be dealt with at some stage.

There are many organisations that are doing great work for people who feel threatened by bullying by offering counselling. There are also suicide awareness groups. However, perhaps there are too many. Many of them have great qualities but there must be some way to co-ordinate them as well. When I was preparing for this debate I found out about GRASP Life Foundation, which has a new android telephone app. Younger people are adept at using social media and perhaps this is something that could be used very positively. They could get help very quickly if they download this on their telephone.

These are just a few random thoughts on the issue. It is a very important issue and I welcome the debate. Ultimately, we must get to grips with this issue, regardless of whether it is through a Bill or the action plan. It can be done by working together.

Smoking kills, drugs kill and bullying kills. Cat Cora is right. She said, "Bullying is killing our kids. Being different is killing our kids and the kids who are bullying are dying inside. We have to save our kids whether they are bullied or they are bullying. They are all in pain".

To the extent that this Bill furthers the debate on bullying, I welcome the Deputy's genuine work. However, having vast experience as a teacher and principal, I disagree with fundamental elements of it. The Bill proposes to make one person on a board of management responsible for designing and implementing what is described as counter-measures to bullying. This is flawed. It is not in line with national and international best practice and is totally at variance with the whole-school approach. To counter bullying in a school every member of the board of management, teaching staff and administrative and ancillary staff has a responsibility for the children in the school, not just one member of the board of management.

My main issue with the proposal is that it is unambitious. Anti-bullying policies in our schools must be innovative and forward thinking. The legislation before us falls short, and our children deserve better. The anti-bullying forum will report this week and €500,000 has been provided to give practical support to schools and teachers. Existing guidelines in schools are not appropriate and the Minister has promised to address these guidelines in respect of cyber and homophobic bullying.

Greater responsibility must also be put on parents' shoulders. As parents, we must stop being so naive. Children tell innocent white lies all the time. Some children tell white lies about the amount of homework they have, some tell them about finishing their chores and some will tell them about their on-line activity. I had the opportunity in the recent past to sit in on an anti-bullying workshop by 60 14 year old pupils. I have heard students say publicly in their classroom that they visit paedophile sites for fun and because they are bored. As a former school principal, I advise parents to befriend their children on-line, to be vigilant and to know what their child is doing on-line. Ignorance is bliss but it can be fatal when it comes to bullying. Last year, 2012, brought that reality firmly into focus.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on bullying. I commend Sinn Féin for bringing forward this Bill and for affording us this opportunity to discuss it. Much emphasis has been put on cyberbullying, but it is still bullying. Suggesting getting rid of Facebook, Twitter and the Internet as well as taking mobile telephones off every child and teenager will not change the fact that homophobia existed before Twitter, as did racism and discrimination against Travellers. We must get to the real issue involved in bullying, which is a lack of self esteem on the part of the bully and those who engage in bullying behaviour, and also define properly what bullying is. Bullying is not a once-off occasion of a person falling out with another person. It is a sustained, persistent and negative behaviour, a dominant behaviour of one over another. Parents must understand that.

Teachers are generally doing an excellent job in tackling bullying in their classrooms and schools. As has correctly been said, it is a whole-school approach. However, children do not live in schools. Society must understand that. Often we say "if only the teachers taught them in schools" about whatever the social ill of the day is, but children do not live in the schools. Parents must understand that teachers can only achieve a limited amount. Bullying before school, after school and at the weekend is not within the remit of the teacher. Parents must also accept that if they are confronted with the realisation that their child is engaged in bullying behaviour, they should not take that as an indication of poor parenting. A child can be bullied, react to that in a particular type of way and turn into a bully or engage in bullying behaviour. That is not a reflection of bad parenting but sometimes the way these things work out. In my experience, however, parents often find it very difficult to accept that their children are engaged in bullying behaviour and it is therefore very difficult to tackle it properly.

A number of great initiatives are under way in the school system. I commend the Irish Traveller Movement on its yellow flag programme, which celebrates diversity, Traveller identity, multiculturalism and sexual identity. Schools can initiate such programmes. We do not necessarily need to be overly negative about what it is happening in schools. Much of what it is happening is positive but we have a culture of humiliation in our society. There is a drive in media and political circles to humiliate and make somebody feel he or she is worthless. If that is a societal issue, we have to address it as such. The Government's proposals, which will be released by the Minister for Education and Skills on Thursday, will be the start of that process but we, as a society, have to reassess how we view people with different identities.

I do not know about blaming the method by which people bully each other. There have to be tough constraints on how children can access the Internet, as Deputy Mitchell O'Connor alluded to, but pupils have anonymously posted comments about other pupils on toilet walls in schools forever.

While I commend Sinn Féin's attempt to bring this issue to the floor to the House and to open it up for discussion, the Bill has flaws. I refer to the proposal for the board of management to have one designated person to deal with bullying complaints and to initiate an investigation into such complaints within three days. That is almost unworkable. The significant work engaged by the Minister should be acknowledged.

Acknowledging what is bullying is a societal issue and we must face up to it as a society rather than leaving it to teachers and parents. The school is not the only forum in which bullying needs to be tackled.

I join previous speakers in commending Sinn Féin on introducing the Bill and for putting the issue of bullying on the political agenda. I acknowledge this is happening during the week the Minister will publish revised guidelines to tackle bullying in schools. It is more than appropriate that he is bringing them forward because they are overdue and much needed.

Bullying does not only affect students as they go through the education system; it can be a feature of every stage of our lives. All of us will be aware of experiences in our own lives where we came across bullying and witnessed it up close. The difficulty is that schoolchildren are not equipped with the tools to handle it in the way adults can and, because of their vulnerability, there is a requirement on us to ensure we do our utmost to protect and educate them through the policies we implement. We must do our best to have a population which is aware of the issues surrounding bullying in order that everyone can deal with them and assist in challenging them to ensure we move away from past experiences whereby sufficient attention was not given to bullying.

We are considering how the way in which bullying is tackled in our education system can be improved, but the unfortunate reality is bullying always took place in schools and, in too many cases, it involved teachers and students. I have heard countless stories of people subject to corporal punishment by teachers, although this involved a minority of them. There were many fantastic teachers but I never cease to be amazed when conversing with people aged in their 60s and 70s by the pain their memories of these experiences as schoolchildren can elicit. They openly relate their experiences and the indelible mark left on their lives. It is amazing that many of them turned out as well as they did considering what they experienced on a daily basis. That is a barbaric and archaic world to us now 40 years later. That, thankfully, no longer happens and there is a heightened awareness in our society of bullying.

The challenges today presented by the methods of bullying are much different and they have changed radically, even in the past decade. As Deputy Ó Ríordáin said, children have been writing on toilet doors in schools for years. If children are subject to a traumatic experience, the last thing they want is for that to become widely known and to have to deal with that as well. Over recent years, social media websites such as Facebook have mushroomed and people have the ability at the click of a button to publicise anything. Negative experiences for children in school can be magnified by social media and, as a result, rather than just being subject to physical or verbal bullying, which was manageable in the past in the sense that it could be dealt with in school, home or in a sports club because there was supervision, these incidents can be publicised on social media sites and children have to deal with that as well. As a society, we have been playing catch up, as have other many other societies, in the context of the fast changing nature of public and social communications. A few months ago, for the first time a communication via Twitter was the subject of a libel case. Twitter is a common means of communications nowadays but it is only now that the site is becoming subject to the law and that the legal system is getting to grips with its impact. Schools are only now updating their tools to deal with the vastly greater challenges presented on an ongoing basis by social media.

Deputy O'Mahony referred to the bullying of teachers. At the beginning of the social media age, I can recall a website,, which predated Facebook and Bebo. The site demonstrated the impact social media could have on teachers. We became aware more quickly of the site because adults were affected but, too often, we do not recognise when children are affected by something like this because they have not developed the skills to deal with bullying. Children of all ages have fewer peers to whom to reach out because those who are younger than the person affected by the bullying will probably not be in his or her social group while those who are older may have moved on.

A person who is being bullied may have only a confined peer group to reach out to and unless we equip young people to deal with bullying and react to it, we are not dealing with the issue or taking as much action as we can to assist them.

Bullying is linked to self esteem. Too often it is about being able to fit in. It takes a courageous adult, and an even more courageous child, to step in and sort out a bullying situation. Unless we build an environment in which children can become aware of what is going on, bullying will be perpetuated and will not be dealt with. Apart from teachers, the people who are best able to ensure that bullying does not happen are those people who see it happening, the peer group. We must equip them with the tools to assist, intervene and stop bullying when they see it taking place. I hope the guidelines that will be published on Thursday address the issue. Deputy O'Brien's Bill is timely and the Fianna Fáil Party fully supports it. The working group should co-ordinate with the Departments of Education and Skills and Health to ensure a joined-up approach to mental health.

The role of guidance counsellors in issues such as bullying was mentioned more than once in the Dáil in recent weeks. The career guidance survey which was published last week showed that one-to-one counselling hours have been reduced by 50% compared to last year. A profession has been built up over a number of years to a strength of 700 guidance counsellors. These counsellors are trained professionals. In earlier times, counsellors were untrained or partially trained. Each of those 700 counsellors is a qualified counsellor as well as a career guidance adviser. Many of them are now back in the classroom. In several responses on this issue, the Minister for Education and Skills said we need a whole-school approach to guidance, counselling and dealing with students' well-being, including bullying. That is absolutely correct. Everyone must be involved in this issue, including students and teachers at all levels, particularly those who have roles of responsibility. If a student is having a difficulty, where can his teacher send him for one-to-one counselling sessions? Someone needs to answer that door when a student knocks on it. The service needs to be there. There are only so many hours in the school day. If the guidance counsellor is expected to teach classes while also dealing with students' counselling needs, a situation could be exacerbated. Serious consideration must be given to this. Our guidance counsellors are a valuable resource in our secondary schools. We must ensure that the training they have built up over many years is put to best use.

Members received a circular today on the issue of homophobic bullying. This has been particularly prevalent in schools, as well as in the wider society. There has been much progress in society's approach to sexuality. I note the approach of President Obama yesterday in his second inaugural address when he made gay rights a tenet and objective of his second term. This shows how far we have come on this issue, thankfully. There is much more work to be done. The Anti-Bullying Centre in Trinity College Dublin found that 16% of all Irish second level students had been the target of bullying. Supporting LGBT Lives: A Study of Mental Health and Well-Being, funded by the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention, found that among LGBT people 50% had experienced verbal homophobic bullying, 40% had been verbally threatened by fellow students, 25% had been physically threatened by their peers and 34% had heard homophobic comments from their teachers. This problem is particularly acute. Young people going through the education system are at a stage where they are coming to terms with their sexuality and are unsure of where they are. Having to endure negative comments or bullying behaviour can be stressful and have a severe impact on one's mental health.

Many have advocated that we should restrict social media and access to the Internet. We can put safeguards in place. With regard to online bullying, as well as its more traditional forms, we must educate and equip our students to know how to deal with it and to know the impact of their behaviour. We must resource and equip our teachers and those working in the education sector to support students and educate them. We must provide health care services. Too often, when problems are exacerbated students and young people must spend several months waiting to see the professionals whom they need to see immediately.

I look forward to seeing the proposals when they are published on Thursday. I commend Sinn Féin on putting this issue on the agenda and I support the Bill. I urge the Minister to take note of tonight's debate, consider the Bill and ensure that we take the much needed action to create a safer environment and an education system that best serves our young people.

With the permission of the House, I will share my time with Deputy Thomas Pringle.

I acknowledge that Sinn Féin has used its Private Members' time tonight and tomorrow night to discuss this serious matter. We know the consequences of bullying. It is not a recent phenomenon. Bullying has been with us since time immemorial. I do not know what it is in the human psyche that gives us this inclination, or need, to hurt a fellow human being.

There are two important words in the definition of bullying. They are "repeated" and "intentional". It is important not to blur the lines between having a disagreement, a row or a falling out and what is really bullying. If someone disagrees with me, it does not mean I am being bullied. The term "bullying" is sometimes applied to situations that are not bullying, as defined. This takes from the serious nature of bullying.

I have a difficulty with the phrase that it is against someone who is not able to defend himself or herself in that situation. That is almost to facilitate bullying in certain situations if the recipient can deal with it. Perhaps there are those who appear to be able to cope, but I have absolutely no doubt bullying affects the recipient. It might not appear so immediately, but it could emerge in years to come. Repeated intentional aggression against an individual or group is wrong, regardless of how the recipient deals with it. The other point is that the behaviour of the bully must be looked at.

I acknowledge the good work being done in schools. Schools and youth organisations have put a lot of time into drawing up anti-bullying policies. Procedures have been put in place for dealing with incidents of bullying and there is an array of programmes in schools and youth clubs to make them a safer environment. I acknowledge the work of the unit in Trinity College Dublin, Kidscape in Britain which has fantastic material available, GLEN and BeLonGTo, the Big Brother and Big Sister programmes, the mentoring and buddy systems, friendship days and weeks and programmes such as On My Own Two Feet and the Cool School.

In my own school there were two principles when we looked at this issue. We valued difference and it was a telling school. If we get these concepts across in all situations, we will deal effectively with bullying. As English teachers, we used the freedom offered by the junior certificate programme to use poetry and plays on bullying. It was a great way to get across to teenagers. There are very few schools that do not take bullying seriously and that do not do what is suggested in the Bill. Being anti-bullying is a whole school function. I have a difficulty, however, with a single member of the board of management taking full responsibility for the issue. Board of management members are volunteers who have an inordinate amount of work to do and they are taking on more and more as time passes.

Young people today do not have the language to express themselves. That is the first step in tackling bullying because they must be able to describe the feeling of being alienated and isolated.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Education (Welfare) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012. Bullying is an issue that has not been far from the headlines in the past year. We have seen a number of tragic incidents related to bullying in schools and cyber bullying. In my day at school, a person who was being bullied could go home and get away from it and did not have to face it at the weekend. Unfortunately today there is no escape from bullying because of social media, Facebook and Twitter. It continues outside school which makes it even more difficult to deal with for the person on the receiving end of the bullying behaviour.

Most schools are proactive on the issue of bullying; it is on the agenda of most schools which have robust policies in place. In this legislation I would be wary of the role envisaged for the board of management in section 3. As has been outlined, voluntary boards of management would have a difficult time in dealing with bullying in the manner outlined. A system under which the principal would outline at regular meetings what was happening in the school in order that the board of management would be fully informed would be a better one and easier to manage for voluntary board members.

Bullying is no longer being tolerated, but there is a reliance on individuals to ensure policies are implemented within schools. If the principal is focused on the issue of bullying and being proactive in dealing with it, the school is normally good at dealing with it. However, we must put a system in place that does not rely on individual principals or members of staff to ensure policies are enacted and implemented as strongly as possible to protect all children. The bullies must also be worked with to ensure they understand why their behaviour is not appropriate and should not continue. The Minister is to publish guidelines on bullying, but we should find a system that would not rely on individuals being proactive to ensure their implementation. As people retire or move on, the policies must continue to the benefit of the whole school environment.

I commend Sinn Féin on introducing the Bill which I will support.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 January 2013.