On a sad note, the young garda who was hit by a car in Donegal earlier this month died this evening. This is an awful blow for everyone concerned. The man had very close connections with my area. While I realise it may not be in order to do so, I extend my sympathy to the Garda force and to all the family and friends of the young garda.
I want to raise the issue of the Mosquito device, which in some respects is as much a matter for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as it is for the Department of Health and Children. Therefore, the matter does not come directly within the brief of the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher. Nevertheless, I am glad he is present to address the matter.
The Mosquito device is a device that emits a high-frequency, high-pitched sound which, unfortunately, none of us in this room will ever hear because our hearing has deteriorated to such an extent that we can no longer hear sounds at such a pitch. We are born with an ability to hear at a certain frequency but, as we age, this frequency changes.
The difficulty at present is that the device is being used to stop anti-social behaviour. Many shops are using the device to try to stop children from congregating, usually at the shop front. A county council, for example, could use the device to prevent youths from congregating. This is especially the case in England.
At a recent Council of Europe committee meeting in Molina in Spain, I was asked to raise this issue with European Youth Forum representatives and the policymakers from the Directorate of Youth and Sport. There was complete agreement that this is a human rights issue. It is assumed by those installing the devices in their premises that all youth are up to no good. It sends out a strong message that youths cannot congregate. The device is perceived to oppose the right of young people to free movement.
It goes beyond that. From the age of 20 upwards, one is unlikely to hear the sound emitted by the device, but it can be heard by some between 20 and 30. After 30, one definitely cannot hear it. Therefore, adults are installing it to terrorise children. However, the adults installing it cannot hear it themselves. They do not know what they are inflicting on the youths.
It seems that in some places where it is operated, and it has been operated in my constituency and other places throughout Ireland, people have refused to enter the shops. I know of a case in England where people withdrew from the only shop in a village which was using this device. Parents were told by teenagers that they developed pains in their ears when they were near the shop. The parents refused to use the shop and withdrew their custom. Very quickly, the shop withdrew the Mosquito device and replaced it with what Senator Quinn laughingly suggested he used when he had a chain of supermarkets, namely, classical music. This served the same purpose. People did not tend to congregate and yet it was not an overt attack on the children's senses.
The Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, may have a few children under six. Older children can articulate there is a problem but until they can speak in sentences, children will not be able to explain that they are hearing an awful sound. If one lets go a child's hand to pay for what one is purchasing or examine what one wants to buy, the child can disappear because the goal of the Mosquito device is to stop children from being there. A toddler will try to get away from the sound as soon as one frees him or her. He or she does not have the capacity to articulate what is the problem and a parent over the age of 30 will not hear it and will not know there is a problem. A question mark is raised as to whether it is a problem for the unborn child, the foetus in the womb, in terms of whether it can hear or whether the umbilical fluid prevents it.
There are other ways to deal with this. In England, where children were congregating at an underpass the local council installed a pink light which showed up acne. It was a different approach to this problem but was very effective. There are imaginative solutions that do not necessarily impact as cruelly or dangerously or in a way which violates human rights.
I am concerned that other countries used a variation of this with a different frequency which could be heard by everyone and did not discriminate. It was used as a form of torture. If we do not stop and act now to prohibit or regulate this it is only a matter of time before the right of people to congregate and the right to free speech could be impacted by people introducing variations of the Mosquito device.
The Council of Europe is compiling a report and the vice-chair of the committee is responsible for it. A questionnaire was circulated to the Minister for his response. We have not responded and many other countries have. Being in the position I am in, I ask that we respond officially. Since I raised this issue through the media I have received staunch supporting legal and other advice from various youth sector representatives throughout the country at national and local level.