That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for certain offences in connection with the improper use of public electronic communications networks; and to provide for related matters.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for permitting me to introduce this Bill. It will make it an offence for a person to send or cause to be sent by means of public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or menacing in character.
The background to the Bill is the report of the Internet content advisory group, chaired by Dr. Brian O'Neill of DIT, which considered the regulatory and legislative framework for, and policy responses to, issues of Internet content governance, specifically in regard to online abuse and the accessing of potentially harmful content. The expert group reported to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in May 2014 and made altogether some 30 recommendations for action by different Departments of Government.
In this Bill I am addressing a gap in the legislation in that the Communications Regulations (Amendment) Act 2007 addressed messages by telephone only, excluding electronic communications or social media. The O'Neill group recommended that the 2007 Act be amended to include all electronic communications within the ambit of the prohibition on the sending of messages which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing. In 2014 the Law Reform Commission agreed with the O'Neill group's recommendation to include electronic communications. The Bill will close a loophole in the legislation. It will support victims of abuse and it will strengthen the capacity of the Garda Síochána to deal with reports of offences.
This Bill deals with a net point. My colleague, Senator Lorraine Higgins, has published a more comprehensive Bill today in respect of online abuse. I hope that after due consideration Senator Higgins's Bill progresses through the Seanad with all-party support. I also take this opportunity to urge the Government of the need to respond to the wider recommendations in the O'Neill report.