I want to begin by applauding an Teachta O'Brien for bringing forward this important piece of legislation. Recent tragedies have acted as a wake-up call for all of us of the terrible impact bullying, including bullying through the social media websites, can have on young people. There have been numerous studies in recent times about the pressures faced by young people. Indeed, the first all-island report on suicide revealed that Ireland has one of the highest rates of suicide among young people, particularly young men, in Europe and bullying plays its part in this.
The issue of bullying is a complex one that affects families, and, of course, parents and families have their role. It affects entire communities and there needs to be a community response as well. Of course, it affects the whole school community. In my constituency, just before Christmas, County Louth VEC requested that all of its schools and centres undertake a root-and-branch review of their approaches to dealing with bullying, including cyber-bullying. That is a very good initiative.
I recently attended the young scientist exhibition at the RDS and met students from De La Salle college in Dundalk who had carried out their own project on bullying and its effects on young people. It is a remarkable piece of social science and investigative work that highlights the importance of this issue for young people.
I am disappointed that the Government has set its face against supporting this Bill. I can see no logic for this. The Government seems to work in this way on many important issues. Rather than embracing and, if need be, amending a Bill such as this in a positive way, the Government opposes good initiatives by the Opposition and trots out its lobby fodder to do so. It seems that this is solely about party politics and the authorship of this Bill, not about dealing, as the Dáil should, in a collective and non-partisan way with an important issue such as this which affects so many citizens. Therefore, I want to deal with some of the criticisms levelled against it.
Last night, the Minister of State, Deputy White, expressed concern at the pressure he claims the Bill would impose on the boards of management as a result of the mandatory reporting of bullying to parents. He further claimed that the Bill will force schools boards to convene a meeting to address any and every incident. This is wrong. It is a disingenuous interpretation of the legislation. I would refer the Minister to section 2 of the Bill which clearly defines in detail bullying behaviour. What we are talking about here, therefore, is clearly defined behaviour where a victim is singled out for targeted abuse of a psychological and-or physical nature.
The Bill does not set out to over-burden school boards by forcing them to respond to every argument or row. Most teachers are well equipped to deal with this. Instead, we are talking about very specific incidents that are in part covered by the Government's own guidelines and the updated guidelines contained in section 2. It is ironic that the Government criticises the Sinn Féin legislation for supposedly putting the onus for responding on an individual board member and then expresses a concern that a school board would be expected to meet collectively whenever an incident is reported. This seems to contradict the Government's stated views on collective governance and runs contrary to the whole-school approach needed to tackle this issue.
The suggestion that boards might have to meet weekly or even daily is another red herring. As I have already stated, the Bill refers to very specific threatening behaviour and if this was happening regularly in a school, then clearly there would be very serious problems within that school which would need to be addressed on a wider level.
This Bill is a considered response to this problem and so far, the Government has failed to respond adequately. The Bill put forward by an Teachta O'Brien provides an appropriate starting point in getting to grips with a growing problem and I would urge Government Deputies to support it.