Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 Feb 2018

Vol. 965 No. 9

Digital Safety Commissioner Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]

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

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. Tuigim go mbeidh sé ag tacú leis an mBille, nó ar a laghad ag ligean dó dul tríd. My understanding is that the Government is not opposing this Bill. I welcome that and thank the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill 2017, which is a significant move towards promoting a positive and safe online culture for all. I acknowledge the work of the Law Reform Commission report on digital safety and harmful communications, particularly its author, Fiona O'Regan. That report prompted the discussion of a digital safety commissioner, which is supported by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC, the Ombudsman for Children and CyberSafeIreland, and the Minister has spoken positively about it. I propose this Bill because I want to keep this on the agenda. The Minister has broadly supported the concept but the Taoiseach has not always been so enthusiastic in his support for it. The Dáil needs to make clear that this is an important role and office.

The office should be a permanent statutory body with considerable powers rather than an office internal to the Department. In the Bill I have outlined several powers. When it goes to Committee Stage, Deputies may have other suggestions and observations on any additional powers and functions that such an office should have. I hope the Minister will hold to the line that the office would be a statutory body, responsible for the promotion of digital safety for all, supporting and implementing measures to improve digital safety and advising the Government of the day on policies relating to digital safety. It is a new departure which would bring us up to date given the times in which we live and the risks and potential harm experienced by users of the Internet, especially children, and it would attempt to mitigate some of those risks.

However, it is not intended as an office solely responsible for child protection functions. It would also deal with online abuse, harassment, hate speech, and so on. It would also be responsible for the promotion of a positive online experience, which should be emphasised. The Internet is a significant public space. It is part of the life of most citizens and increasingly of the lives of younger citizens. It creates great value which must be reflected also in discussions on the risks and harms associated with it. It has already changed our relationships with one another to a large extent and will continue to change public life in ways that we are yet to imagine. We should consider legislation that will ensure the Internet plays a healthy and restrained role in public life. That applies across a wide range of areas.

Technology and online platforms evolve very rapidly and dramatically. The difference between the range of products and platforms available in 2007 and today is night and day. The rate of change over the next ten years could be just as rapid. It is vitally important that the remit of the office be drawn in such a way as to ensure that it stays abreast of all changes and is in a position to evolve as the challenges evolve. We need a measured, proportionate and sensible response to the risks and hazards. This Bill and a digital safety office commissioner is a part of that. We face significant challenges and many, particularly parents, are concerned about what is happening. It is hard to blame them when we read the stories of predatory behaviour, harmful material and online bullying. While bullying in any circumstances is bad, the idea that it can follow the child home bothers many parents and must be a very difficult experience for the children affected. While it is true to say we face significant challenges, there is no sense or value in a moral panic. It would not assist us in resolving the difficulties. We need legislation which ensures that safeguards exist and that criminalises behaviour that deserves to be criminalised while also promoting a positive experience and a healthy online public space. We also need increased resources for the relevant offices that ensure corporate responsibility. The Taoiseach has correctly said that there is a role for the major providers and platforms. We also need legislation to ensure that where they are not stepping up to the mark and putting in the safeguards, they should be made to.

The remit of the commissioner has been defined in a broad manner in this Bill so that the scope of his or her work and the subject matter can evolve over time. The primary proposed functions of the commissioner would be, among others, to promote digital safety for all, to support and encourage the implementation of measures to improve digital safety, including oversight and regulation and a timely and efficient procedure for removal of harmful digital communications. He or she would ensure that take-down procedures and removal of material are made available to all affected individuals by digital service providers free of charge. He or she would ensure that there is a code of practice for safe and responsible Internet usage, develop national digital safety standards and ensure compliance with them, and he or she would have powers to revoke a certificate of compliance with same. He or she would collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate information relating to digital safety. The rate of change will continue and needs to be analysed and evaluated constantly and responses to it developed. The commissioner will also be responsible for advising the Government of the day on policies that may or should be implemented to ensure all users of digital platforms are protected in a way that keeps up to speed with the ever-changing nature of digital technology.

The commissioner would also have the responsibility of working with the Ombudsman for Children in publishing guidance material, including guidance material for schools, relevant to digital safety for children and to harmful digital communications, which would include support and guidance material for parents. Crucially, the commissioner would be responsible for ensuring digital service providers, such as websites and social media platforms, abide by minimum codes of practice and national digital safety standards. Central to this would be the take-down mechanisms I mentioned. It is essential that this provides timely, quick and effective remedies so that people can be confident that the website or platform they or members of their family are engaging with will deal swiftly with abusive material, harmful communications or material posted without consent.

There should be recourse directly to the office, but we should seek to have quick, effective and timely remedies put in place by the platforms themselves, having been forced to by the commissioner, in order to reach the standards because if there is a significant delay in dealing with harmful material then damage is done, even if it is eventually removed. Some providers have good mechanisms, but some do not have any. Certificates of compliance will ensure that users and parents can distinguish and choose between safe websites and unsafe websites and platforms.

One of the significant differences between this Bill and the Bill proposed by the Law Reform Commission is the establishment of an advisory committee. This would be focused on the wider community with 50% of the committee drawn from civil society, youth and children's groups. It would include young people. This would ensure that new developments, technologies, trends and platforms would come to the attention of the commissioner quickly and that the office would have the ability and scope to evolve over time, as technology does.

This Bill would be a significant step in improving the online experience of all and in giving people more confidence in their safety from abuse and harmful material.

I welcome the Bill introduced by my colleague Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire and I welcome that the Government will not oppose the Bill.

Digital safety, and in particular the safety of young people online, has been a major news story in recent weeks. Many parents feel out of their depth when it comes to the use of technology. Meanwhile, children are growing up with it and are far more versed in its use than many Members in this House. Despite this, many young people are still not fully aware of the dangers present when it comes to the use of social media and various apps.

The Internet Content Governance Advisory Group made a number of recommendations to Government in a 2014 report on what needs to be done. Four years later we still have not implemented the bulk of the recommendations in that report. The use of technology has been invaluable in education, communication and business. There have, however, been darker sides to this technology with a range of child protection issues - harassment; bullying; exposure to inappropriate content; and predatory behaviour, all of which have made the headlines recently. Legislation is simply unable to keep up. The time is overdue for the setting up of an office of the digital safety commissioner. This office would have the role of promoting online digital safety, reviewing and regulating harmful digital communications on the Internet and other digital platforms with the intention of establishing safer and healthier attitudes for all users of digital platforms.

Earlier this week the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs Committee saw how this issue falls across various Departments. It was great to see the four Ministers in before the committee. It shows the Government has a unified response on this serious issue. This is why we need a one-stop shop on which young people, parents, industry and legislators can rely to advise on best practice around digital safety.

I support the idea of an advisory council that would include members from civil society groups, Government Departments and the industry to provide regular feedback to the commissioner. All Members are aware that digital technology will continue to play an increasing role in the lives of young people. We need to be sure that we have the tools in place to educate young people on how to use this technology in a respectful and safe way. We need parents to be educated and aware of the potential dangers of their children using such services. We also need the industry to be aware of its obligation to safeguard users. As legislators we need to ensure there are robust regulations and standards in place to improve digital safety and a timely and efficient procedure for the removal of harmful digital communications.

I thank Deputy Ó Laoghaire and his party for introducing this Private Members' Bill. I also thank the Law Reform Commission for its work in preparing the report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety, which was published in September 2016. Deputies will be aware that the report’s recommendations were effectively split in two parts: the first concerning the reform of criminal law, and the second concerning the establishment of a digital safety commissioner. Deputy Brendan Howlin introduced the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, which addresses those parts of the Law reform Commission report on the reform of criminal law and harmful communications. Deputy Ó Laoghaire’s party brought forward a similar Bill. Deputy Howlin’s Bill was discussed on Second Stage in the House on 31 January and, as on that occasion, the Government will not be opposing the passage of the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill 2017.

I strongly welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation because as the father of four young children I believe online safety is one of the greatest challenges we face today. It is, however, important that our response to the risks be measured and that we acknowledge the benefits as well as the threats that are out there. The online and offline worlds are one and the same in the lives of today’s teenagers. We need to work with them and listen to them so that our solutions are credible in their eyes.

I and three colleagues, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs yesterday. I thank that committee for its work on this subject, and I look forward to receiving its report and recommendations shortly. The fact that four Cabinet Ministers appeared before a committee together, something which I believe is unprecedented, is a testament to this Government’s commitment to working together to make the Internet a safer place for all users, but especially for our children. In addition to the Ministers who appeared at the committee yesterday, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, also have roles to play, and their Departments are involved in the organisation of the open policy debate on online safety. I will return to this subject later.

An interesting aspect of yesterday’s discussion was that the committee members wanted to know where overall responsibility should rest for online safety. Some committee members proposed that we would have a Minister for the Internet. It is tempting when speaking about any issue which cuts across many Government Departments to gravitate towards this type of solution. The reality is that no single Department or Minister can be responsible for solving all of the issues relating to online safety. There are at least six Departments involved in this area and I believe our goal should be to find a way to work together in a better and more seamless way from the public's point of view.

As the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, online safety for children has been a personal policy priority for me. We were all deeply disturbed by the reports of recent cases of horrific online behaviour perpetrated in Ireland. As a society we must respond, but we must also realise that a solution appropriate to these cases is not necessarily the solution for all types of online behaviour and content.

At the other end of the spectrum entirely, we are talking about hurtful comments and cyberbullying, where the perpetrators can in many cases be young people themselves. I have said many times that there is no one single action which will fix the Internet. I was struck by Professor Brian O’Neill’s contribution to the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs last year. He explained that all research over the past 20 years showed that a multi-stakeholder approach to online safety is required. We need to find 21st century solutions to these problems. Yes, legislation may form part of those solutions, but it is not a panacea. It should be seen as only one part of a wider range of actions that we should consider. I would also like to recognise the work which is already under way across a range of Government Departments, work which was strongly acknowledged at yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs.

My position on the need to establish an office of a digital safety commissioner has been widely reported and acknowledged. The specific roles envisaged for the digital safety commissioner set out in this Bill include promoting digital safety for all persons and supporting and encouraging the implementation of measures to improve digital safety. Recognising the proactive role which the Ombudsman for Children has played in this area, the proposed commissioner would support the preparation and publication by the Office of the Ombudsman for Children of guidance material for schools. Other functions refer to education and awareness measures including collecting, analysing and disseminating information relating to digital safety; supporting, encouraging, conducting and evaluating research about digital safety; publishing reports and papers relating to digital safety; and promoting positive use of the Internet and active online citizenship.

The proposed commissioner would also have a role in co-ordinating the activities of Government Departments and other bodies in this area. I believe all stakeholders would agree on these aspects. It is important to note that some of these functions are already being carried out, at least to some extent, across a range of Departments. We can and should identify practical steps that we can take in the short term without necessarily waiting for the establishment of a statutory office. Work is currently under way to identify those steps.

I acknowledge the suggestion of Deputy Ó Laoghaire about establishing an advisory council. That is a very welcome and constructive suggestion. I also acknowledge the suggestion of Deputy Denise Mitchell regarding a one-stop shop for best practice. We do not need a statutory basis to set up something like that, but it is something that needs to be established.

In the interest of clarity, I must emphasise that there are aspects of this Bill which raise jurisdictional and other legal issues and which require far greater examination and scrutiny after Second Stage. Specific legal difficulties in the Bill include the following. First, there are significant issues with definitions in the Bill. For example the Bill does not define what is meant by “harmful communications” other than those which will be addressed through criminal law. Second, the Bill provides for a role for the courts where an entity is established outside the State in respect of a harmful communication. It is not clear how this would work in practice. Third, the Bill imposes a number of obligations on digital service undertakings established in the State. Fourth, the overlap with other State organisations with statutory and non-statutory roles in this area is not clear. I flag these issues in order to be helpful and not as a hindrance to the progression of this legislation.

The Bill also fails to take into account the impact that such a measure would have in a European context. As we all know the Internet does not respect borders and for that reason a joined up approach at a European or even global level is key. In fact, next week the Global Internet and Jurisdiction Conference will be held in Ottawa, Canada. It provides an ideal opportunity to have such issues progressed. The European Commission published its communication in respect of illegal content on online platforms last September and it is due to bring forward proposals on the next steps by May of this year. This is significant as the European Commission is taking action to ensure an effective system of notice and take-down is observed by online platforms in respect of illegal content.

Other member states have brought in measures which seek to impose stricter measures on Internet companies. There are examples of legislative and even constitutional restrictions on certain content across the European Union, but results have been mixed so we need to learn from this. We are in a far stronger position when we work in tandem with our European partners. Action at European level, whether it relates to criminal or harmful content, will bring about far more coherent results than a purely national approach, not least in respect of Internet providers that are not based in Ireland. Given the action which the Commission is taking, it could be premature to take unilateral action in respect of a statutory code of conduct at this time. However, this is something that should be kept under close and constant review.

We must also recognise in this debate the role which is being played by An Garda Síochána. It will always have statutory responsibility for illegal content in Ireland. I commend it on its recent successful operations, including Operation Ketch. We must recognise that it has been extremely effective in ensuring that illegal content is removed. My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, is working on legislation in the area of harmful communications which will further strengthen the hand of An Garda Síochána. I also commend the joint approach by An Garda Síochána, Webwise and the Professional Development Service for Teachers in marking Safer Internet Day.

Another example of the activity taking place with which I am familiar is my responsibility for implementing the revisions to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. While a final text is yet to be agreed at European level, this directive will ensure that video sharing platform services such as YouTube have measures in place to protect users, especially minors, from harmful video content. Some 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every single minute. We will also be required to formalise the regulation of non-linear or on-demand services such as Netflix and the RTÉ player. This is another positive step in making the Internet a safer place for all users, but especially children. It is likely that the revised directive will be agreed in the coming months and my Department will begin a public consultation on how best to implement its provisions.

Online safety is complex, but some of the solutions are clear. We need to do more, but we also need to make sure that there is greater awareness of all the resources and supports that are available right now. We want to make sure that our children are not only tech savvy, but also safety conscious; that parents know where they can turn to for help; and that there is a joined-up approach to everything we do. These are measures that can be strengthened today without waiting for legislative change.

As I have outlined, a number of Departments and agencies are already involved in delivering many services which are aimed at safeguarding citizens online. Rather than being overly prescriptive in this area, I am keen to work on practical steps we can take now. This means working with parents, young people, non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and technology companies to take actions that will make a real and practical difference.

I convened a meeting between my colleagues, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, on this issue last November. We agreed that the most appropriate way to move online safety forward would be to hold an open policy debate to help us identify gaps and the practical steps needed to fill them. As I have mentioned, this open policy debate will be held on 8 March and six Departments, led by my own, are involved in organising it. The overall aim of the event is to raise awareness among all participants of the activities being undertaken by the Government, the European Commission, industry and NGOs. The ideas and feedback generated on the day will also feed into a Government action plan which will underpin future actions and policies. All Deputies are welcome to attend on the day and are asked to contact my office if they are interested in doing so. I sincerely hope they do.

The output of the open policy debate will allow the Government to set out an integrated set of measures to continue to tackle the issues arising in respect of online safety, and to strengthen communication and information for the general public in respect of supporting children and young people to stay safe online.

Once again I thank Deputy Ó Laoghaire for bringing forward this Bill, which the Government will not oppose. As I have previously highlighted, there are significant legal and jurisdictional issues that must be overcome before the Bill could be enacted, but it is important that we debate these points and come forward with practical, implementable solutions. That is why in tandem with moving forward the legislative side, we must identify areas we can progress in the interim. There are lots of areas in which we can work together and take a co-operative approach. I value the contributions that all Deputies, on all sides will make to this debate tonight, to the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs and to the open policy debate in March. It is only by working together that we can begin to make the Internet a safer place for all citizens, but especially for our children.

I thank Deputy Ó Laoghaire for bringing forward this Private Members' Bill. Fianna Fáil will be supporting the Bill and would always support an initiative such as this. We will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage.

Ireland is completely behind the curve in regulating and legislating for the online and social media sphere. As it stands, the online world is largely self-regulated. The recommendation for the establishment of a digital safety commissioner was made by the Law Reform Commission back in 2016. Rather than act on this recommendation, the Taoiseach stated that he would be loath to go down that road. The Taoiseach called on the tech companies to step up to the plate and do more to protect the people from the dangers of online intimidation, bullying and so on. The Government has effectively washed its hands of any obligation to protect its citizens from the online world.

Since the commission published its recommendations, we have seen a number of horrendous examples of the dangers of the online world. There was the case of Matthew Horan, the 26 year-old who used numerous social media sites to gather thousands of images of children as young as nine. There is Nicole Fox Fenton, the 21 year-old woman who took her life after endless torments from cyber bullies. There is the awful abuse suffered by former Senator Lorraine Higgins. There is the case in Belfast of a 14-year-old girl whose nude photograph was posted on Facebook numerous times.

I thank the Minister for his statement and welcome what he said yesterday. He and I stand together on one thing. The reason I am passionate is that I am a mother of three young kids. It is incumbent on any of us here as legislators to find ways to protect children online. It is not all about children online; it is about everybody online but particularly our most vulnerable, namely, our children. Unless we put rules and regulations in place to protect them, how can we keep them safe? There is no doubt that parents are behind the curve on this issue. They are looking to us and to the Government for leadership and to come forward. I am very frustrated that we do not have a digital safety commission in place.

I must acknowledge the work of the Internet safety office. I compliment the fantastic work it does with all of two staff. The work those two staff deliver is done incredibly well. They produced 40,000 booklets last year of which there were four in the range. Anyone who got one into their household will know they were fantastic. However, 40,000 was not enough. They do really good work on educating the parents and the children themselves. I agree that the digital safety commissioner should have a dual function of implementing social media safety measures, educating people about safe online behaviour and working with Government policy on safe online behaviours.

It was fantastic to have the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and the three other Ministers at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs yesterday. In the earlier session of the meeting, before the Ministers arrived, we heard from Professor Brian O'Neill, the chairman of the Internet content governance advisory group. That is a mouthful in itself. I pushed Professor O'Neill because this document was produced in 2014 and they had 30 recommendations including three main recommendations. Not one of them has been implemented, which is regrettable. I welcome the fact that the Minister is talking about an advisory group. That is something we can do in the here and now. We do not need to wait for big legislation or anything else. Children can input into this as well. That is a huge part of it.

The kids are nearly laughing at us having these discussions at this stage. They know where it is at. When we talk about Snapchat maps, which we had during the summer and we talked about Sarah, we were talking after some of them had actually uploaded or downloaded or knew about the location buttons. That is why we need a digital safety commissioner, so that it is all funnelled through one particular grouping and we can protect the kids. Parents should be aware straight away when there are different maps going on. We do not need to hear it a few weeks later. There should always be awareness.

On the Law Reform Commission, discussion is taking place at the moment of the digital age of consent and whether it should be 13 or 16. A digital safety commissioner would be best advised and would have all the research done on how we could protect children if the age remains at 13. Parents would feel there is a safety net and protection in place. Dr. Geoffrey Shannon made a very detailed report on this issue to the Law Reform Commission and recommended the age of 13. The ISPCC, the Children's Rights Alliance and the Ombudsman for Children also suggest the age of 13. However, Professor O'Sullivan and Dr. Mary Aiken have made very compelling arguments as to why the age should be 16, in respect of understanding how data can be used and who owns and controls it when it goes up online. A digital safety commissioner would be able to report back to the Government with key recommendations on this matter. Many Deputies and Ministers are doing a lot of heavy lifting behind the scenes to try to figure out if the age should be 13 or 16. It is a big conversation piece at this time.

I welcome the event on 8 March. It is brilliant and I would be delighted to attend. The gathering together of all these people in one room to thrash out the sorts of things we are discussing this evening is welcome. I hope they will discuss the role and function of the digital safety commissioner. The Minister is right that we cannot be insular and just think about it in an Irish context. We have to think of it in a European and a global context. People might not realise that a lot of these sites are not based here and might not be licensed through here. We are lucky to have direct communications with the ones that are here. The ones that are not here are the ones we have to understand and look at on a global basis.

The committee has had wonderful speakers making presentations. Deputy Ó Laoghaire was a member of the committee for many months before Deputy Mitchell joined him. We had a lot of heavy lifting and engagement. We had An Garda Síochána in and it has done a phenomenal amount of work, as the Minister said. One of the things that came out of yesterday's committee meeting was how underresourced the Garda team is. It is a very small team and its manpower gets sucked into focusing on one or two cases. The Garda is so dependent on Europol and the US for gathering all its information. It does a phenomenal amount of work behind the scenes, which people would not realise.

I have been critical of the Government in the past couple of weeks because of the lack of - or even a whisper of - a digital safety commissioner. While the Minister and his team at the Department are very committed, I sometimes feel that the Taoiseach is sitting on the fence on this issue. It is incumbent on him to step up and protect the youth of this country, to row in behind the Minister and to decide under what Department the digital safety commissioner will operate. He must give the go-ahead in order that a digital safety commissioner can be appointed. It falls across a number of Departments. Before I came here tonight I had to speak with Deputies O'Callaghan, Browne, Thomas Byrne and Dooley. No individual Deputy can take sole ownership of this issue because it falls within all Departments. I believe we need to find the correct home for it and a Department needs to take ownership of it. It is in a good home at the moment and I would like it to stay there but it needs a permanent home in order that someone can take up the mantle and protect the youth.

I will state in the first instance that the Labour Party will be supporting the Bill. I am glad that the Minister and the Government are also supporting it to the next stage of proceedings.

The Minister will forgive me if I am a little bit cynical about his response. We had a good engagement at the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs yesterday. I am not sure whether there is a precedent but four Cabinet members appeared before us in unison to speak on the issue of Internet safety and to articulate what each of their Departments is doing to protect minors and to get people to engage in order that as a society, we meet the challenges presented by the vagaries of the online community. My cynicism - it has a small "c" - stems from the fact that were one to parse through the speeches made by each of the four Ministers, one would find that not one of them is proactive in putting up his or her hand and asking for responsibility for the role of digital safety commissioner within his or her Department. Instead, we are subjected to another open policy debate.

I have sat where the Minister is sitting now, so I have some insight into how Government works. I do not believe we need another open policy debate, to be frank. It would be wonderful to gather everybody in one room and have another discussion but we already have the report-----

Perhaps the Deputy could tell us when the last discussion was.

This is the second time that I have been on my feet in front of this Minister. He is a decent, progressive man but I would be obliged if he would let me get on with my speech. I may be wrong, as I often am, and if so I stand to be corrected in due course but I will make my few points.

The Internet content governance advisory group, ICGAG, report was set up at the behest of the former Minister, Pat Rabbitte, and it contains a set of recommendations that have not yet been adopted. I strongly believe we now have legislation before us that can be subject to amendment but that allows for the appointment of a digital safety commissioner. However, until the Government clearly tells us under which Department it will sit, I predict we will be here this time next year talking about the same issue. A recommendation was made by the ICGAG that a Cabinet Minister or a Minister of State would be appointed. As it cuts across the various Departments - I acknowledge the challenges the Government faces on this issue - I do not see why the Government could not appoint somebody who has a certain skill set to act outside of the silos so as to ensure there is direct political responsibility for this.

To return to the four speeches that were made yesterday, if one parses through the Departments involved, namely, the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs, Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Justice and Equality and Education and Skills, it is clear that there is excellent work going on in the individual Departments. If I was to proffer an opinion - I do not have the wisdom of Solomon on these matters - I would say that matters are often passed on to the Department of Justice and Equality if there is any sort of bespoke or eclectic element to it. I am not sure if the Department of Education and Skills would be the most appropriate place for the office of the digital safety commissioner. I believe it stands somewhere between the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. If I was to offer an opinion I believe it would work best with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, but as I say, I do not have a monopoly on wisdom in this area. There was no indication from any of the Ministers yesterday that they wanted to take this on or that they wanted to ensure they would have political responsibility for this at Cabinet level. We are not seeing the level of advocacy at ministerial level we need. I suggest that someone could sit under that level as a Minister of State who could cross-cut each Department and collate the information available in each. Three or four excellent civil servants could be appointed and it could have a budget, and we could get on with it. If that does not happen we will probably be here this time next year discussing this issue.

I have not carried out a proper analysis of the number of Private Members' Bills. We are all producing them. The Minister has referred to the Labour Party Bill that seeks to tackle online harassment. We now have this Bill, introduced by Deputy Ó Laoghaire, which seeks to establish the office of the digital safety commissioner. I believe Fianna Fáil is drafting legislation on this issue as well. We have a plethora of Bills and we need some degree of co-ordination at the political level. This is a non-partisan issue and there has been a massive willingness on the part of all politicians, on a cross-party basis, to co-operate on it. There are outlying issues relating to the digital age of consent - some of us are conflicted as to whether it should be 13 or 16 and there is work to be done on that - but if we are all working in unison and in tandem with one another, we can achieve something. I believe there is a massive onus on this generation of politicians or the incumbents under this mandate to try to achieve something on this. There is massive demand from parents in particular to ensure that somebody in government will grasp the nettle on this issue. That is what people want to see.

I am hopeful that the office of the digital safety commissioner will sit somewhere between the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment or the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, given that this is an issue that affects minors in the main. I support the Bill. Deputy Rabbitte spoke about resources. Yesterday I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, about the Garda national protective services. We had an interaction with the assistant commissioner at the committee before Christmas and were told that fewer than 100 people were deployed in the area of online child exploitation, cybersecurity and cybercrime.

I believe strongly that if this country is able to announce a multi-billion euro national development plan, somewhere within the Exchequer's coffers there is money to be made available to buttress the existing resources to assist the Garda in particular and the Office for Internet Safety, which I understand has probably fewer than five staff members. They do a great deal of work. Similarly, in education, there is the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, which is responsible for ongoing professional development for teachers and which has a small number of staff who are trying to roll out programmes across the country. There are major challenges in that respect, as articulated by the Minister, Deputy Bruton, yesterday.

If we can provide better resources to existing services we can start making a greater impact but in supporting this legislation, I would make the case that if it passes all Stages, and, hopefully, it will, and if the Government intends to amend it as it sees fit, it would amend the Sinn Féin Bill and not state that it will take on its own Bill. Hopefully, the Minister might come back after 8 March and after the open policy forum because much of what he will hear in the open policy forum are messages he has already heard through official formal and informal channels. We all know what we need to do. We need to pass this legislation, appoint an appropriate Minister with responsibility for this area, and give that Minister the resources and the political responsibility to do that. If that is done, we will be able to get on with the job in hand.

I thank all the Deputies for their contributions. As I said at the committee yesterday, I agree with everything that has been said on this issue. We need to work in a spirit of co-operation. There is much we can do by working together on it. There is a great deal of material available, and I pointed out yesterday that a tremendous amount of work has been done by the Department of Education and Skills. We could use that material, and much is being done by the technology companies also.

The issues that were raised are not to do with the big technology companies; they are to do with the smaller apps that are being developed. We know that regarding terrorism and such issues there is a sharing of information and the skills set and tools with new app developers. That needs to happen on a far broader scale than is currently happening. Let us all redouble our efforts to do that.

I flagged the issues regarding this legislation. I am happy for Deputy Ó Laoghaire to come back and engage with us to see how we can overcome some of those challenges.

I thank all the Deputies, and particularly the Minister, for their words of support for this legislation. I will deal with some of the specific issues that arose during the debate.

On the objective of the Bill, I echo what Deputy Sherlock said and hope we can work with this legislation that has been initiated and amend it as the process proceeds. I would expect that we can have a pre-legislative scrutiny stage but it seems to me that there is a possibility that a money message will be required. There has been some discussion this week about the Government in that regard and, in fairness, the Minister's Department is not one of the significant offenders, but there is a delay in money messages being provided for Private Members' legislation. That is slowing down the passage of legislation, and the Government as a whole needs to reflect on that. If it is serious about new politics, it needs to allow Opposition Bills pass not only Second Stage in the Dáil and pre-legislative scrutiny but to progress to Committee Stage. Technical issues may arise, and the State and the civil servants have much more resources to examine some of those, as well as regulatory issues, but the Government should be embracing such legislation. I am not directing that at the Minister but at the Government as a whole. I hope we can engage on that point.

There was some engagement on a particular Department. That is an interesting discussion. My personal view is that the area of online safety is not only an issue that affects children. For many adults or for any user of the Internet, and I would include vulnerable adults in that, there are challenges, risks, harmful material and material posted without consent. Predatory behaviour can affect adults just as much as children. We need to be conscious that children are the most vulnerable citizens, but it is an issue that affects the population as a whole.

The Minister spoke about Departments. It is not necessarily an immediate proposal but, in future, the entire area of the Internet could be considered in tandem with the areas of technology and science, perhaps in terms of the Civil Service, Departments and so on, and not only in terms of the Internet. A greater focus on the entire area of science would benefit us socially and from the point of view of enterprise and so on.

The challenges that exist online are very different. There is no silver bullet in that regard. The Internet is global. It is not possible to fence ourselves off from the rest of the world online. There are different challenges. The matter of the age of consent deals with data, but there is a misapprehension that that could deal with predatory behaviour also. That is not the case. The approach to dealing with predatory behaviour is very different. In terms of the approach to dealing with harmful material, the appointment of a digital safety commissioner would be a significant step in ensuring that providers tackle that in the first instance. However, its own harmful material can be of itself a criminal offence and where criminal offences are committed online, that is a matter for the Garda.

On the last occasion representatives of the Garda were before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, I commended them on their considerable success in tackling the problem of underage harmful material. That was a considerable success against a particularly heinous crime. I commended them on that occasion and I commend them again now, but we need to ensure that the Garda is properly resourced in that regard because it is a very challenging area.

With any issue online, a wide variety of responses is needed. The digital safety commissioner is one response. Everything related to the Data Protection Bill is another but there is a wide variety of others, probably of a legislative nature but also in terms of resources for the Garda.

I take on board the points the Minister made on some areas that may require amendments. The definition of harmful communications can be addressed. I believe that is addressed in Deputy Howlin's Bill or perhaps Deputy Sherlock's-----

Deputy Howlin's.

In any event, the Labour Bill has a definition in that regard that could be borrowed.

On the issue of extra-territoriality, there is an attempt to address that but it is complex in terms of entities that are licensed abroad. It should be possible to regulate their activities here to some extent. If they seek certification to be in compliance with codes of practice and national minimum digital safety standards, I believe we can deal with issues like that that may not be dealt with here, but if we need to deal with that at a later stage I would be more than happy to work with the Minister on it.

I hope to be in a position to attend the forum on 8 March. Deputy Sherlock made a solid point. There is consensus on the need for a digital safety commissioner in particular among the children's rights and child protection organisations, some of the online safety organisations and, I believe, the Minister, whatever about the Taoiseach. I hope this debate assists him in persuading the Taoiseach on that. There is consensus here. Obviously, it is welcome to have that discussion but I do not believe it is necessarily required for us to continue to progress this Bill. However, I am happy to work with the Minister, other parties' spokespersons and the organisations.

The point made by all Deputies in the debate that there is a desire across parties to deal with this issue in a non-partisan and progressive way is true. I hope that we will be in a position to deliver on that and that by the end of this Dáil term, we will have a digital safety commissioner.

The Deputy referred to money messages, and we are all aware that there have been difficulties around money messages in recent times.

Considerable work has been done behind the scenes and the Dáil reform committee will receive a report on 7 March aimed at breaking the impasse which has existed in respect of money messages. If the Dáil reform committee can agree a set of proposals, which by that stage will have been agreed with Government, I hope we can move forward and that Bills such as the Deputy's can progress more readily. Am I to take it that the Bill as proposed is read a Second Time?

The Ceann Comhairle can take all Stages if he wants.

Given the level of consensus which has broken out, we might try that, but not today.

Question put and agreed to.