Protection of Children (Online Pornographic Material) Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to protect children from viewing pornographic material on the internet; and to provide for related matters.

The proliferation of pornography in recent years has been immense with regard to children. Right now, throughout the State, children as young as eight and nine years old are consuming explicit, hardcore material that would have been illegal just a generation ago.

I might get the Taoiseach's attention on the Bill if I can.

Research by the school of psychology in NUI Galway has shown that almost 60% of 13-year-olds in this State have consumed hardcore pornography. Children as young and eight and nine have free access to extremely explicit material. No matter how good one's parenting skills are, children will always have an opportunity to get access to this type of material on an electronic device in school or in someone's house. The reason this type of material is so damaging is because it has an enormous effect on the minds of young children. It can skew their understanding of relationships and sexuality. It can be addictive. It can also lead to sexual violence and rape. Indeed, there have even been murder cases in recent years, in particular the heartbreaking case of Ana Kriégel, where a sexually aggravated attack by two boys led to her death. One of those boys was found with 12,000 extremely explicit images on his phone. We know that when we allow this material to come into the hands of very young children, it can radically skew their understanding of the world and can lead to violent outcomes.

It is important that as a State we come to some level of solution on the issue. Previous governments have been asked to legislate on the matter. They have spoken in very hushed tones about how serious this is, but nothing has been done. All we have had are shrugs and politicians sitting on their hands. Aontú is seeking to bring about a Bill that would make the provision of this material to children illegal in this country in future. My personal view is that nobody has the right to access this market for any product. If someone seeks to access it, he or she must adhere to the rules of this country. If someone seeks to sell a bottle of vodka to a 13-year-old, the State does not say how the off-licence works out the age of the child, it says the off-licence must do it, and if it does not comply, then it cannot operate in this country anymore.

What we have done in the Bill is created a responsibility on the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to make regulations with regard to this matter. First, the Minister would engage with all of the stakeholders in society that have an interest in this particular sector. Second, we have looked at the rules governing the responsibilities the many companies that provide pornographic material operating in Ireland have with regard to the provision of this material to children. Pornhub, for example, operates in Dublin. We have looked at Internet service providers and payment service providers and the roles that they play with regard to the provision of this material. Internet service providers are the companies that provide the Internet to a person for €40 every month. The payment service providers are the companies that allow one to pay for goods and services over the Internet through credit cards and by other means.

There is a precedent for the Bill. A number of years ago, large film companies saw that Internet service providers in this State were streaming copyrighted films, free of charge, into the Irish market, which obviously radically reduced their ability to make an income from their product, so they brought those Internet service providers to court and the Internet service providers were told by the judges to stop the access by these sites into the Irish market. What happened is that those websites were blocked.

What the Bill seeks to do is to get ComReg to send notices to Internet service providers, who are allowing websites to provide explicit hardcore pornographic material to children, informing the companies either to work out a mechanism whereby they can tell the age of the people who are consuming that content or after a period of time their website will be blocked in the State. We have seen the mistakes made by the British system in this regard and we have got around it by the production of regulations. We ask wholeheartedly that this Government does not become the latest in a long list of governments to sit on its hands on this issue, shrug and say it cannot do anything.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.