Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 26 Apr 2022

Vol. 284 No. 7

Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022: Committee Stage

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2

Amendments Nos. 1 and 6 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 8, line 14, to delete “Commission” and substitute “Coimisiún”.

I would like to see the legislation amended to delete the word “Commission” and substitute that of “Coimisiún” in its place. This would require amending the Bill in 529 instances so, for today's purposes, we have included a simple amendment to section 2 definitions.

The role of the proposed Coimisiún na Meán in the governance and regulation of media cannot be underestimated in terms of its importance for the future of the Irish language. Sinn Féin believes this ought to be reflected in the Bill through a reinforced Gaelic identity for the body. While it is welcome that the State body is given an Irish language name in legislation as "Coimisiún na Meán", it is subsequently referred to exclusively throughout the Bill as the Commission, whose members are only to be known as commissioners. In popular discourse and debate, the agency is already being referred to as the media commission before it is even established. We know from an tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachas, which refers to itself almost exclusively in all branding as the Higher Education Authority and the HEA, despite having only an Irish name in law, that State agencies will revert to self-anglicising if provided with any opportunity to do so and this further detaches the organisation from its responsibilities to the Irish language.

The recently passed Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021 sets out in section 9D that the names of new State agencies should be in Irish only and branding should put Irish to the fore. It is, therefore, perplexing and disappointing that perhaps the first new State agency created by the same Department that gave us the official languages Act chooses to emphasise English language titles and descriptions since its enactment. Consistency would require the coimisiún to be called just that throughout and that its membership would referred to as coimisinéirí. By reinforcing the Gaelic identify of the body in this way, not only are we adhering to the commitments of a State whose first official language is Irish, and increasing the visibility and helping to normalise Irish in public life, both of which are positives in and of themselves, we are also reinforcing the fact that at its core this commission will ultimately be responsible for monitoring, adherence and implementing language conditions on broadcasters and service providers, in addition to answering complaints and demands from the Irish-speaking community.

I thank the Senators for tabling the amendments. In respect of amendment No. 1, section 9D(1) of the Official Languages Act 2003 as amended provides that the name of a statutory body established on and from the commencement of section 4 of the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021 shall be in the Irish language. In advance of the commencement in section 4 of the 2021 Act, I decided that what was previously to be known as the media commission should be known as Coimisiún na Meán. This is given effect in section 6(1) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 as amended by section 7 of this Bill and reflects Government policy regarding the title of new statutory bodies. That section of the Act also provides that throughout the Act coimisiún na meán is referred to as "the Commission". This is an interpretative provision rather than a substantive one.

However, I absolutely understand the intention behind amendment No. 1, namely, to delete all references to "Commission" and substitute the term "Coimisiún". Given the amendment as drafted may not give effect to that intention, I do not intend to accept the amendment. However, I am willing to consider the intention further in the context of Report Stage.

Similarly, amendment No. 6 would delete the term "Commissioner", as the Senator said, and replace it with the term "Coimisinéir" in section 2 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 as amended by section 3 of this Bill. Again, I understand the intention of the amendment is to require a commissioner to be known as a coimisinéir but am not sure the amendment as drafted would achieve that intention and, therefore, will not accept the amendment. I am willing to consider the intention further in the context of Report Stage. The issue is fundamentally a technical drafting issue and I am willing to bring it back on Report Stage.

Based on what the Minister has said I am happy to withdraw the amendment while reserving the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 2, 100, 101 and 106 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 8, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:

“ “political purposes” means any of the following purposes, namely—

(a) to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a political party, a political group, a member of either House of the Oireachtas or a representative in the European Parliament, or

(b) to present, directly or indirectly, the policies or a particular policy of a political party, a political group, a member of either House of the Oireachtas, a representative in the European Parliament, or

(c) to present, directly or indirectly, the comments of a political party, a political group, a member of either House of the Oireachtas or a representative in the European Parliament with regard to the policy or policies of another political party, political group, a member of either House of the Oireachtas, representative in the European Parliament or candidate at an election or referendum or otherwise, or

(d) to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a third party in connection with the conduct or management of any campaign conducted with a view to promoting or procuring a particular outcome at a Dáil, Seanad, European or local election, or referendum, such campaign relating to an election for which the polling day has been set by Government or a referendum for which the Referendum Commission has been established, or

(e) to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the election of a candidate at a Dáil, Seanad or European election or to solicit votes for or against a candidate or to present the policies or a particular policy of a candidate or the views of a candidate on any matter connected with the election or the comments of a candidate with regard to the policy or policies of a political party or a political group or of another candidate at the election, or

(f) otherwise to influence the outcome of the election or a referendum;”.

I ask Members to have some patience with me as we only got the groupings as we walked in the door, which means I am trying to reshuffle lots of amendments into order to be able to group them. That is obviously not ideal but I understand the pressure the Seanad Office was under to be able to come back to us with those groupings.

I thank the Minister's officials for meeting us last week to discuss a number of these amendments. We have an issue with the Bill being taken before the Digital Services Act, DSA, even if we know there is compatibility between the two but also the fact the expert group has not come back on the complaints mechanism. As such, there are many reasons we should have stalled this Bill but all we can do at this stage is try to amend it.

The amendment proposes to add in a definition of "political "purposes within the legislation. Under section 9, the principal Act is bring amended. Section 46M(2)(a) provides that a broadcaster or relevant media service shall not broadcast an advertisement that "is directed towards a political end ...". First, I am curious about the term "political end". I am not sure I have seen it in legislation before, nor is its meaning defined in the definitions section. I ask that the Minister speak to that specifically. What constitutes a "political end" is unclear as no definition is provided. The term is very vague and risks preventing a broadcaster or digital service provider from sharing information through advertisements in the public interest. If we think about issues like climate change, sexual consent and LGBT matters, there are loads of different things that could be construed as a "political end" yet there is no definition of what that is. While existing legislation curtails political advertising, the provision in this Bill could be misinterpreted to such an extent that important political issues such as the ones I have outlined are conflated with the content of political advertisements. This amendment provides a definition of "political purposes" and complements a separate, later amendment, namely No. 101, that seeks to replace the term "political end" with "political purposes".

The Bill provides that a broadcaster or relevant media service shall not broadcast an advertisement which: "is directed towards a political end ...". What constitutes a "political end" is unclear as no definition is provided, as I said. It is vague and risks preventing a broadcaster or digital service provider from sharing information through advertisements. This amendment is closely related to the first amendment and seeks to clarify what is meant by "political end" and insert a useful definition of what "political purposes" are so we are clear about what that means in the context of advertising and broadcasting.

We have tabled amendment No. 100 on a related issue. It would remove the ban on political advertising on certain forms of media. We have the odd situation at the moment where if I wish to place a political advertisement, I can take one out in a newspaper, in the cinema and on any social media website, including that of my local radio station, but I cannot place one on television or on independent or commercial radio.

This kind of ban was fine in the past when, effectively, television and radio were incredibly powerful whereas as we now know, much of the emphasis has shifted to social media. The idea that we are limiting where political advertising, either by political parties or others, can take place in certain areas while allowing it in others seems completely ridiculous.

What we would prefer to see happen is the removal of the proposed ban on advertising on radio and television. Instead, the commission would regulate it and the same rules would apply across all media. Essentially, what we would like to see is a levelling of the playing field so that if somebody wants to place a political advert on his or her local radio station, the same rules would apply as if he or she wanted to put it on Facebook, Twitter or whatever. The reason for the prohibition in the past made a lot of sense but in today's world it is actually discriminatory against the more traditional broadcast media. It would, therefore, make more sense to remove those sections from the legislation and instead allow for the development of a code by the commission.

I will join colleagues in speaking to amendment No. 100, in which we are calling for the deletion of that section on the prohibition of political advertisement. I thank the Minister and all her officials for their engagements on the Bill up to today because it is one of the most important pieces of legislation. That should be said at the outset in terms of the Minister bringing forward this legislation in the first place.

Senator Malcolm Byrne is right; during the course of the committee hearings we have held over the past year, many of the traditional media bodies came before us, for example, terrestrial television, independent local radio and print media. Different rules govern these different media entities in our country, however. All are under pressure. We are, of course, awaiting the publication of the report of the Future of Media Commission. The commercial viability of our media, which will ensure its independence, is also under threat, in particular - and I do not think this can be overstated enough - in RTÉ and Virgin Media Ireland. We have seen the migration of commercial revenue to other platforms. It is not a fair and level playing field if publications such as my own local newspapers can take advertising from me but that cannot happen on my local radio station. Independent local radio stations met with us today us and pointed that out to make sure there would be a regulated market.

I do not think anyone here is advocating for the introduction of an American-style attack advertisement platform where, for example, Deputy Madigan might go on RTÉ and say: "Catherine Martin hates puppies - Vote Josepha Madigan. This ad has been paid for by Neale Richmond." I do not think we are saying that but I do think we are advocating for the opportunity for political parties to actually get their messages across. If we ourselves value democracy, we should be able to actually avail of the biggest platforms available to us. The removal of that section is, therefore, very well-merited.

I am very much taken by the arguments put forward by the Senators proposing this amendment. I have one difficulty, however, which relates to lifting the ban on advertising relating to an industrial dispute. The unforeseen consequence of that is effectively to allow a situation whereby if there is a particularly bitter industrial dispute, an employer can take out advertising to influence the outcome of that dispute and build public support one way or the other. We have laws in this country that try to ensure that an industrial dispute is between an employer and the workers in question. Of course, if other workers come into an industrial dispute, there are very serious consequences for them.

We need to look at the checks and balances here for trade unions and employers in the context of an industrial dispute and the consequence of lifting this ban on advertising relating to an industrial dispute. For that reason, therefore, we would have to oppose the amendment, notwithstanding that I understand there are very good reasons relating to the rest of it. However, because industrial disputes are contained within this section, the Labour Party will have to oppose the amendment.

First, on the general points, the Minister will see there are really strong feelings across this House with regard to this Bill. It is a little bit unfortunate that it is coming slightly prematurely when we had the digital services directive pretty much agreed yesterday. We know there are major areas of policy on which the expert group has not come back and, of course, it is a concern that many of the recommendations of the committee do not seem to be really reflected in the legislation. Again, I know that Senators from all parties played a very active role in the committee and will be keen to see the progress. The fundamental message here is that the Seanad wants to see this Bill improved before it continues on its journey. Even if they might not always align, there are strong ideas across the Seanad as to how it could be improved.

There has been discussion in terms of political parties and political advertisements and such. I take that on board but I would have that concern in terms of inequality. If there were regulations, for example, they really would need to address the issues. We do not want situations whereby, for example, there is a huge amount of online money in an electoral context. That was a huge issue in previous elections and referendums where that question arose. In fact, we will come later to some of the discussions on advertising in particular. There were questions around the constraints we have and that political donations, for example, need to be reflected in terms of advertising, including the restrictions on overseas payment for advertising. It would be appropriate that there be some level of equity, limitation and cap in terms of what can be spent on advertising during elections. We are all grateful in Ireland that we do not have that kind of money-takes-all approach we see in some countries in terms of elections, which effectively prohibits a huge number of people from participating.

I would be very concerned in respect of the question on industrial disputes, as was mentioned by Senator Sherlock, not least because one of the areas in which we have a huge push for unionisation at the moment relates to online media services themselves. We might look to Amazon workers who are trying to mobilise, for example. We do not want to have a situation whereby advertising from a very powerful company could be used in an industrial dispute. We saw with some of the gig economy workers organising in the US, certainly, that there were very vigorous campaigns against the workers in that context. That is just to mention those caveats.

The crucial point on why we brought forward these amendments is the political purpose and end point. We were promised by another Minister that the unforeseen, possibly, and certainly regrettable consequences of how political purposes were described very widely in other legislation were going to be addressed. In fact, we were promised that the Electoral Reform Bill would address it. It has, therefore, been acknowledged as being a problem. We brought forward legislation on that definition and we were asked to leave our legislation aside because the Government was planning to address it. Yet, we have brand new legislation that is seeking to replicate the exact same problem, that is, this very wide prohibition in terms of political purposes. The thing we have basically been told will be removed and dealt with is now popping up in another context. That is a concern.

To give a small example from my own record, I worked for Trócaire when an advertisement that said someone who is born a girl may face inequality was found to be too political and banned from the radio under the old rules.

Trócaire was told that there were political purposes to the advertisement because it was highlighting an issue of policy. No one would dispute the statement of fact that women face gender inequality in society, but that advertisement was deemed too political to be on radio. That is what happens when this clause is used in respect of other media. That is how dangerous it is, which is why inserting it again and reinforcing it without any nuance, consideration or detail is a recipe for the same problem, only worse. At least when these things happen in radio and other media, there is a commons, but if it is also happening in the online space, tracking egregious examples of advertisements getting blocked or particular Internet service providers declining to host an advertisement becomes much more difficult.

I welcome the Minister. I support the amendment proposed by my colleagues, Senators Cassells and Malcolm Byrne. It is disappointing that we have not seen the Future of Media Commission's report yet. This negatively affects us in considering and tabling amendments. The report should be out in the public domain.

I have no issue with any political advertising as long as there is a level playing field. That is what the commission will be there to monitor.

I understand the concerns that Senators Sherlock and Higgins have expressed. At the outset, I should have thanked the Minister and her officials. A great deal of work has gone into this Bill and we are grateful for all their assistance.

In this amendment, we are talking about a level playing field. The reality at the moment is that Amazon has no problem with taking out adverts on all social media channels if it wants to. The trade unions can equally do so, including in newspapers. This amendment is about a level playing field, in that the same rules would apply to broadcast media. As Senator Cassells outlined, it is not a question of moving to a US-type situation – the sector certainly needs to be regulated and codified – but of having a level playing field. Traditional broadcast media are losing out at the moment. Trócaire, a trade union or a political party cannot take out an advert on a local radio station or with a national broadcaster, but such entities can spend as much as they want on social media advertising. The proposal in the amendment is to remove that restriction. A code certainly has to be put in place to set out what kinds of information and advertisements can be broadcast, but the proposal is more about levelling the playing field than about trying to restrict any sort of political voice.

I will make a general point first. I empathise with Senator Ruane on the groupings, which I also received quite late this afternoon. That is because of the interest in this groundbreaking legislation and how there are more than 200 amendments. If it is of any help, I will say that I was under the same stress as the Senator this afternoon when preparing for this debate because I was also waiting for the groupings. We were in it together.

I will first speak to the Bill in general terms. The main aim of the legislation is to jump-start the modernisation of Ireland's approach to the regulation of content in traditional editorial media as well as in the landscape of newer online services fuelled by user-generated content. This is driven by the changes in the way we consume media and the growth of the online world.

In terms of online safety, the Bill will ensure that we are all exposed to far less harmful online content and will require by law that online services respond to and robustly deal with complaints. While the Bill does not, and cannot, address every issue of concern arising from the online world, it creates a robust and adaptable framework for accountability that can be amended and expanded over time. This framework will be enforced by coimisiún na meán, which will include the online safety commissioner and have one of the most modern and robust suites of regulatory power in Irish law. It will be the starting point for the regulation of harmful online content. The establishment of coimisiún na meán is the most vital part of the Bill.

Regarding broadcasters and streaming services, the Bill is fundamentally about modernising the regulatory environment and enabling an coimisiún to deal with the continuing changes in how we engage with and support our media. It has critical EU law dimensions, as it transposes the revised audiovisual and media services directive, AVMSD, which strongly informs an coimisiún's underpinnings. As Senators will be aware, given the complexity of this legislation, we have missed the deadline's transposition deadline. That is one of the reasons I am keen to see this Bill progress through the Houses to enactment as soon as possible.

Reference was made to the EU's Digital Services Act. That Act and this Bill are complementary. One of the Bill's key drivers is the implementation of the revised AVMSD into law. That implementation in respect of online services, specifically video sharing platforms, is provided for under the Bill's regulatory framework on online safety. In this regard, the directive is explicitly recognised by the Digital Services Act as a distinct and complementary law to the proposed regulation. Regarding the regulation of other online services, the Bill provides for a regulatory framework for online safety that is designed to be adaptable and responsive to changes in Irish and EU law.

Political agreement on the Digital Services Act was reached on 22 April. While the final text of the agreed legislation is not yet available, it is clear that legislation in addition to the Bill before us will be necessary to ensure appropriate alignment of our regulatory systems – coimisiún na meán and other regulators – with the proposed regulation. Ireland and other member states will have 15 months from when the regulation comes into effect – that will likely happen this summer – to ensure that its measures are provided for and supported by Irish law where necessary. In this regard, the Government has decided that coimisiún na meán, which is to be established by this Bill, will act as the primary regulator and digital services co-ordinator under the Digital Services Act. The Government made this decision in light of the clear synergies between the objectives and approaches of coimisiún na meán and the Act, including taking a systemic approach to dealing with online safety and platform regulation and similar resourcing needs and expertise in implementation and enforcement.

It is important to note that the Digital Services Act is not sector-specific legislation, but a horizontal instrument that aims to set baseline regulatory standards across a wide range of issues, including legal liability, consumer protection in legal products, copyright, certain law enforcement matters etc. As such, it will overlap with a number of laws and activities of a number of regulatory bodies. These matters will need to be teased out during the implementation period. A programme of work in this regard already is under way between my officials and the officials of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Regarding the amendments, I thank the Senators for addressing the Bill's provisions on the prohibition of broadcasting or making available on the catalogues of video-on-demand services advertising that is directed towards a political end, has any relation to an industrial dispute or addresses the merits or otherwise of adhering to any religious faith or belief or of becoming a member of any religion or religious organisation. These provisions have been carried over from existing provisions set out in sections 41(3) and 41(4) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, which in turn carried over similar provisions from the Radio and Television Act 1988. This Bill extends those provisions to video-on-demand services.

I thank Senators Ruane and Higgins for tabling amendments Nos. 2, 101 and 106. These amendments propose to replace the term "political end" with "political purposes" and set out a definition of "political purposes". I recognise the work that Senator Ruane has done on this matter, including by introducing the Electoral (Civil Society Freedom) (Amendment) Bill 2019. The effect of amendments Nos. 2, 101 and 106 would be to prohibit the broadcasting or making available of an advertisement towards political purposes rather than the current wording of an advertisement "towards a political end".

The phrase "political end" was queried.

That term, "an advertisement towards a political end", has been in defined in the 1998 High Court judgment, Colgan v. Independent Radio and Television Commission. This case involved an appeal against the decision of the Independent Radio and Television Commission, IRTC, to prohibit broadcasters from broadcasting an anti-abortion advertisement prepared by the organisation Youth Defence. The definition used in Colgan v. IRTC is currently used by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. I note that the definition of "political purposes" stems from the centre’s proposal to amend section 22(2)(a) of the Electoral Act 1997.

Given that the Electoral Reform Bill 2022, which will regulate online political advertisements during electoral periods, uses the term "political purposes" to define such advertisements, I will need to consult with my colleagues and the Minister of State with responsibility for heritage and electoral reform. This substantive impact of the proposed impacts in opening up political advertisement on broadcasting or video on-demand services would need to be carefully considered, particularly as regard to any unintended effects it may have in terms of potentially allowing extremists to advertise.

On amendments Nos. 2, 101 and 106, I would like to have the opportunity to consider them further and consult with my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for heritage and electoral reform, with a view to discussing the matter again on Report Stage, so the Senators may wish to raise the amendments then.

Amendment No. 100, as proposed by Senators Malcolm Byrne and Cassells, would have the effect of deleting section 46(2) of the Broadcasting Act, as amended by the Bill, which would appear to have the effect of allowing all political advertising or religious advertisements to be broadcast or shown on a video on-demand service. I would have concerns that this may have the inadvertent effect of allowing political parties to advertise outside of election periods on television and certain video on-demand services. As we have seen in other jurisdictions, allowing political parties to advertise freely can actually have the effect of handing the airwaves over to the political parties that have the most resources. At its most dangerous, this would have the potential to undermine the democratic process.

On lifting the ban on industrial disputes, the employer may have a higher level of resources to influence public opinion. Therefore, I would be inclined to agree with Senator Sherlock on the risks that she outlined. The amendment as proposed would remove the prohibition of broadcasting political advertisements, but not put the rules in place. Therefore, it would not be a level playing pitch. There would be rules for online advertising under the Electoral Reform Bill in the election period, but not for broadcasting. I would be afraid we are actually moving beyond the core function of the commission. Therefore, I cannot accept amendment No. 100.

I have two really quick points. The Minister mentioned the online safety commissioner but, of course, there is not an online safety commissioner in the Bill as it stands. Again, that is the headline. That is what everybody goes out with. That is why we are being told we need to pass it. However, it is not there. I just need to be very clear. There should be, and will have to be, an online safety commissioner in the Bill before it leaves the Seanad, given that is what we have been advertising and what is being discussed. This is what the public is waiting for in the Bill.

The Minister mentioned that there will be new legislation coming on the digital services directive. We are all looking forward to engaging on that. I think she will get constructive engagement from everybody on it. However, she acknowledged there will need to be legislation on that and it will impact on a number of regulatory authorities. I would suggest in that context, if the priority is to ensure that we deliver our obligations under the audiovisual, AV, directive, then we should not include elements that do not probably belong under it, particularly regarding cloud storage and interpersonal communication, which are areas that definitely need to be regulated. Indeed, the digital services directive will be one of the key tools to regulate them. However, it would seem that if the focus is complying with our AV directive obligations, why are we adding in elements that the Minister has already said we will have to come and regulate for anyone and do brand new laws on? Within those brand new laws, we will be setting out the roles of different regulators in relation to them. There is nothing in the Bill that will preclude those areas coming in, but at the moment those two areas are implied to be included under all of the provisions and functions of the Bill. They are there with one caveat that says they do not apply in a certain context with regard to how there is a limit in terms of offences. However, that caveat almost implies that they are subject to everything else, by the very nature of it being there. It just seems that if we are trying to streamline what needs to go through, there might be somewhat of a premature aspect of a directive that just passed yesterday and the areas that it is covering not being properly reflected here.

This is a sign of the concern to simply say that we took this language from the previous Act. Again, it is not reflecting the evolution that we have to have. There is an evolution in technologies, but there is also an evolution in terms of legislation. We now have a wide variety of circumstances in which NGOs, civil society and others have effectively been hamstrung from communicating with the public. Bear in mind, they often do not have the editorial ownership of media, which others may have. We should be learning from that. We should not be putting a measure that has been problematic in the past and just directly transposing it here. I would urge the Minister, who indicated her willingness to talk to the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, regarding "political purposes", to do so. Let us have this legislation up to date in that respect as well.

I appreciate the Minister’s sentiment around amendment No. 100. However, as Senator Higgins pointed out, the Minister said that the language is simply based on the 1997 Act, and the media landscape and environment has changed enormously. I appreciate some of the Minister’s concerns that perhaps an extremist group could then be allowed, if our amendment was accepted, for instance to take out an advertisement on local radio. However, an extremist group under free speech may be allowed to take advertisements out on Elon Musk’s Twitter and express its point of view. I appreciate her point, but I would agree with Senator Higgins in that there has to be discussion around the Electoral Commission legislation. Whatever rules we have with regard to political advertising must be platform neutral so that the same rules will apply to somebody who is looking to advertise in an online environment as on local radio, television and print media. It has to be a level playing field. I accept the Minister’s point with regard to amendment No. 100. However, it is on the basis that if it is to be covered as part of the Electoral Commission legislation, we ensure that it is a level playing field across platforms.

I would not accept the Minister’s choice of words in saying that it would be "dangerous" outside of the electoral cycle. I do not accept that. We need to be encouraging more political discourse and this is a way of doing so. Throughout this whole debate that we have had on this key point, the point that Senator Malcolm Byrne and I have been advocating for has perhaps been slightly lost in terms of the rules that exist for other media platforms, many of which are already in trouble anyway as entities and may not even be here in ten years’ time. That is the key component.

On the points made by Senator Sherlock, which I respect, on industrial disputes, print media was kingpin in media terms 15 or 20 years ago. It was used quite extensively by very prominent companies in this country in the midst of very creative advertising companies. It did not skew anything. I am a committed trade unionist and am still a trade union member. The point was ensuring that we have a level playing field, no matter what media platform. Therefore, we either accept that we actually have differences between the existing scenario or we are just turning a blind eye to it. The amendment that we have put down is trying to address that.

Anybody else? No. Does the Minister have any further comments or is she happy enough? Perfect.

I apologise, I did not see Senator Higgins. I call Senator Higgins.

I have a one-liner comment because, in fact, we did not actually speak to it yet, but we will come to it in a minute. In terms of the differences in advertising, one of the concerns is some of the things that are pushed out are included in this, even when looking at what has and has not been covered. The religious issue is included in this section, the way we discussed it in terms of religious belief and so forth. However, we have not discussed other things that are very damaging and that are, again, interspace, and have an actual effect that is measurable in terms of, for example, advertisements on conversion therapy. We had amendment No. 106 and we did not speak to it at the time, but we will be bringing it back on Report Stage in terms of, for example, the advertisement of conversion therapy. We will come into that anyway when we talk to some of the questions around advertisements, and it may come under the definition of "harmful content" within advertising or commercial communications. We will come to that in a minute.

I wanted to signal that we have an amendment on that, which we will bring forward on Report Stage.

Senator Cassells makes an important point and we have repeatedly heard about the level playing field. Do we want to level down or level up? Is it right that the print media is able to carry advertisements by powerful interests? It should not be able to do so. I respect Senator Cassells' arguments but I profoundly disagree. This amendment is here for a good reason. If the Senator was to come with a different amendment we might have a different discussion.

No but the point is-----

I am being nice.

-----let us not undermine the few existing protections for workers in the context of industrial disputes.

I do not want to be at odds with Senator Sherlock because we are not at odds in any sense but let us be fair in the debate on levelling down or levelling up. Trade unions are adept at using the media to put their point across as well. I am not saying their point is wrong; I am playing devil's advocate as the Senator has talked about business interests. I have seen unions take out full-page advertisements as well to put forward their point of view so that can also be argued. We should be balanced and both sides do it. To go back to the Senator's point on levelling up or levelling down, it is the platforms that are at issue, not the substance of the points being discussed.

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 establishes the regulator, which the Government has decided will also enforce the DSA. I am advised that it is important to have that regulator in place at an early stage and that is why we are doing that now. The Bill also creates a regulatory framework for online safety, which is designed to be future-proofed and adaptable to EU law. This framework will help the implementation of the DSA, not hinder it.

Senator Higgins mentioned the online safety commissioner. There are later amendments that will provide an opportunity to discuss that point. I wish to tell Senators Higgins and Ruane that I have given serious consideration to amendments Nos. 101 and 106 and to returning to them on Report Stage in consultation with the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. On amendment No. 100, I have concerns about the risks that there would be unintentional consequences to deleting section 46M(2) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as amended, and so I cannot accept it.

Considering that the Minister is willing to engage on the topic and to do some work to look at my amendments Nos. 2, 101 and 106, I am happy to withdraw amendment No. 2 with the right to resubmit.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 2 agreed to.
SECTION 3

Amendments Nos. 3, 99, 119, 121, 122 and 172 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 9, to delete line 2 and substitute “ ‘commercial communication’ shall be interpreted as including advertisement;”.

This is a concerning factor and leaving aside what areas we believe should be regulated the question is advertisement itself being regulated. Section 2 is clearly about advertisements yet the other sections we will move on to include sections on advertising and later we will go on to sections on matters like the media service codes. A concern I have is that it may be possible on the current reading of the Bill that advertisement is not being covered by the media service codes and is only being covered by the narrow and specific provisions in section 46M. The reason I have for that concern relates to the definitions in page 9, including: " 'advertisement’ includes a commercial communication;". I know commercial communications need to be referenced in the Bill because they are referenced in the AV directive but commercial communications as set out in this definition are a subsection of advertisement. They relate to matters like product placement and the sponsorship of a segment within a programme.

I am concerned about the section on media service codes and many of the NGOs have concerns which we have heard about. All of the codes the commission may develop only apply to commercial communications. The danger would be that we will only have codes on a small subsection of advertising with most advertising being free to do whatever it likes. For example, there could be ads for conversion therapy as I said. There could also ads on trans-fats, acids, salts or sugars because section 46N(5) on the media service codes states that it: "may prohibit the inclusion in programmes of commercial communications relating to foods or beverages". We will come to the question of whether it should be "shall" or "may" later and that is a different debate.

The key point at the moment is that the commission is not being empowered to regulate advertising, only particular sponsorship of particular sections. We know that advertising is one of the massive concerns. In between the programmes and in the case of online and targeted advertisement - and we will come to questions of harmful conduct later - there is a question in terms of the content of advertising and there are also real questions on how advertising is targeted and directed. Who receives what ad and is it somebody who will be particularly vulnerable and who has been profiled as being vulnerable to that advertising? We will have discussions down the line on the many amendments from Senators on this Bill around advertising but I am concerned that the way the Bill is worded takes all that off the table. That is why I have tabled a few amendments to this section and these are my attempts to address that. I suggest “ ‘commercial communication’ shall be interpreted as including advertisement;” or I am open to the Minister's definition that "advertisement shall be treated in the same manner as commercial communications for the purposes of this Act". That is another way it could be approached. We do not want a definition that basically takes advertising off the table and creates a free-for-all where whoever has money can say whatever they like about anything, be it harmful content or anything else.

Amendment No. 99 mentions "The inclusion of advertisements under subsection (1)". This is an attempt to build a bridge from the advertising section, 46M, to the media service code section, 46N. I suggest: "The inclusion of advertisements under subsection (1) shall be subject to such restrictions and regulations as may be set out in the relevant media service code." I am trying to include the right to have media service code regulation in the section on advertising. That can also be done the other way but that was an attempt to make it clear that advertising comes under the code because we have largely voluntary codes on advertising. We are putting these restrictive measures in place in certain areas where there is no "may" and it is all very "shall" in terms of the political purpose and religious uses but we are not even leaving the scope for "may regulate" in other areas of advertising that are of significant concern. I could list them all but we are going from breast milk substitute advertising to gambling, cryptocurrency advertising and conversion therapy, which I mentioned before. There is a long litany of groups that are concerned about the impacts harmful advertising can have so it would be a disservice to them if this Bill fell short. I hope that can be addressed in a simple way by the definition or maybe it requires insertions into section 46M or section 46N. I have a number of other similar amendments where commercial communications are referenced and where I reference "advertising or" or "advertisements and".

I seek to ensure that in multiple points in the Bill where commercial communications are being referenced, that advertising would come under that same remit.

There is not a huge amount for me to add in relation to my amendment No. 172. The amendment is pretty much in line with a number of Senator Higgins's amendments, which seek to clear up any vagueness around the definitions of advertising and commercial communications within the Bill. It specifies that the term "advertising" would include commercial communications, that is, that commercial communications would be a subset of advertising. It is unclear in the Bill whether some types of advertising are excluded when commercial communications are referenced. I will keep my contribution short because I believe that Senator Higgins covered a large part of that.

I am quite supportive of amendment No. 172. It looks after, in particular, the instances that involve children. I look to the recommendations of the Oireachtas joint committee that we made. Recommendation No. 24 proposed an actual ban on advertising, at the very minimum for junk food, alcohol, high-fat foods and gambling. It is important that this commitment is there within the Bill. It is not there at present. I support amendment No. 172.

I welcome the amendments brought by Senators Higgins and Ruane. The Senators have identified a potential ambiguity in the text of the Bill. Amendment No. 3 proposes to delete an existing definition and to insert a new definition stating that commercial communications shall be interpreted as including advertisements. Amendments Nos. 99, 119, 121, 122 and 172 seek to ensure that media service rules, media service codes and online safety codes address both advertisements and commercial communications.

Section 2 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as amended by section 3 of the Bill, already incorporates a definition of commercial communication. I can confirm that the term "commercial communication" used within the Bill is intended to be an encompassing one, including advertising, sponsorship, teleshopping and product placement.

I do understand that the intention of the Senators' amendments is to ensure that the media service codes, the media service rules and the online safety codes address all commercial communications, including advertisements. That is also the intention of the Bill as initiated. I understand the concerns of Senators that this is not immediately clear in the draft of the Bill is initiated. I will not accept the amendments today but I will ask my officials to examine Bill, in consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, with a view to returning to consider this on Report Stage.

I again thank the Senators for their amendments. They have shown the value of parliamentary scrutiny and the importance of our legislative process.

I thank the Minister. I ask that we might have an opportunity to engage between Committee Stage and Report Stage because I want to know what is going to come in that regard. Let us have a conversation rather than just picking it up on Report Stage. I believe we could probably have some useful conversation in between. In that context I will not press amendment No. 3 at this point. I will withdraw the amendment but I reserve the right to reintroduced that amendment at a later point.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.

Can we speak to the section rather than the amendments that have been ruled out of order?

Yes, we can do that now, if that suits.

There are a few parts of section 3 that we will look to come back to with regard to amendments. A number of our amendments were ruled out of order and perhaps the uncoupling of some amendments from others may change that. I will put some of our concerns on the record with regard to section 3.

There needs to be a definition of "algorithm". Going back to the Minister's initial comments, the Minister spoke about a jumping-off point in the modernisation and regulation of online safety, yet we have a Bill without any definition of "algorithm". It is perhaps one of the most harmful aspects, in many ways, of the online worlds, and one that we struggle sometimes to comprehend and understand. The Bill actually uses the term "automated means", which is effectively an algorithm. It does not define, however, what "automated means" actually is. The purpose of my speaking to that section is to hopefully introduce a definition, or for the Minister to consider looking at the Bill to introduce a definition of "algorithm" into this section. It is no longer enough for us to be vague about the automated processes. This Bill is the place to look at that and the place to govern that. It often manipulates our online lives and it is strange to me that several sections of the Bill use the term "automated means" without a definition, and that no definition exists here for that or for "algorithm". They are closely related, to the best of my understanding, and we should flesh this out within the section.

Also in the context of "automated means", I refer to looking at the use of "recommender system" or other automated systems in this section. Basically, this function would potentially be for us to discuss, between now and Report Stage, whether we can introduce an opt-out for recommender systems. I do not mean recommender systems as a whole but ones that use a person's profile and micro-target users to actually recommend things to them, which can then increase the level of online safety, and especially in the areas we have spoken about today, whether that is eating disorders, conversion therapy and such things. This is so that there would be no actual micro-profiling of people and making recommendations to them. I believe that if we were to look at this in section 3, it would really enhance the Bill. It seems to be missing from that section. Obviously, it could belong elsewhere but on my reading I would hope to table an amendment there on Report Stage.

Between now and the next Stage, I believe that we should also look at the provision in section 3 on online harmful conduct. Basically this would be a technical amendment that would refer potentially to section 139B, where we could insert another amendment to ensure the definition of harmful online conduct is introduced to reflect the definition section, alongside the definition of harmful online content.

Finally, on section 3, again perhaps we could look at the recommender system. The recommender system basically means a fully or partially automated system used by an online platform to suggest in its online interface specific information to recipients of the service, including as a result of research initiated by the recipient, or otherwise determining the relative order or provenance of information displayed. It is important to put this on the record because when we attempted to put some of this into the Bill, the amendments were ruled out of order. They were seen as providing a cost. I would argue back on some of those because they are basic definitions of things that are already alluded to somewhat in the legislation. There may be room, were the Minister to see some merit in introducing such provisions, whereby the Minister herself could introduce some of these amendments. I am happy to meet the Minister or her departmental officials to send on the efforts that we had made to enhance the Bill in section 3. Perhaps this is something that the Minister and her Department would consider introducing on Report Stage.

I thank Senator Ruane. I note Senator Higgins wishes to come back in. Does any other Senator wish to come back in also on section 3? No.

This is a key concern. While it is not the Minister's concern, I will certainly be raising it with the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight and others. It is pretty wild that amendments calling for definitions were ruled as a cost to the State. It is the case that the insertion of three definitions, including in one case a definition of something that is already referred to in the Bill, were ruled as being out of order due to being a cost to the State. I am extremely concerned, on a fundamental point of democracy, about what seems to be a creeping dynamic in respect of what gets ruled out of order and what does not. This is not acceptable. If it is the case whereby we are not allowed to introduce a term, to suggest language, or to define a term, then this is pretty unacceptable. It is a very serious concern and I want to signal on the record of this House, while not directly to the Minister, that if those measures are used to curtail proper parliamentary scrutiny and the improvement of legislation, then the balance between the Executive and the Legislature and between Parliament and the Government is being damaged. That is a concern. One of the things that we talk about when we are discussing this Bill, and we all speak about it, is democracy and the importance of those measures. It is a significant concern.

More specifically on the points, I urge the Minister to engage with us. Pending a proper argument about this within our own mechanisms, if necessary through our Standing Orders, in the course of this Bill it is likely that these amendments and definitions will need to come from the Minister.

In that context I urge her to engage with them because what we are putting in here and what Senator Ruane, who took the lead on these, has been doing is giving the tools to the Bill and to the media commission that it needs to do its work properly. It is constructive. "Algorithm" is a definition which is there but really importantly, "automated means" - if automated means is referenced we are not talking wind up and clockwork - we need to be clear on what is included in that.

In that context, amendment No. 5 in particular is extremely constructive in that it talks about algorithms, recommender systems and other automated systems. It is important in regard to the recommender systems, some of the examples have been given but we know that when we talk about the dangers, the kinds of online harm that we talk about and that people speak about at the committees and that have been in the media, one of the things that is talked about is a person went in and watched a video of a dance-off and then four videos later found himself or herself watching a video of some far-right rally. That is because the recommender system is in play. That is where the issue around harmful online conduct arises.

We are actually not being prescriptive in terms of everything that we might like in regard to these things. What we are trying to ensure is that the commission is empowered to address harmful online conduct. When it refers to "automated means", and it is implied, the commission has to consider these factors when determining its penalties because one of the factors in the Bill that needs to be discussed in regard to penalties is, how likely was it for someone to have seen it and what the scale of distribution of this piece of harmful content has been. However, we are not empowering it on the front end to actually set guidance about what one should or should not be doing in terms of amplifying messages that may be harmful or amplifying content. We are giving it a defence in that respect at the end but we are not actually giving positive direction or empowering the commission to give positive direction on what is harmful online conduct. We may not come to those amendments but when we come to some of those we will in those sections be discussing where we think that should be inserted in effect and some of what it might include. What is really important is that the Minister comes back with definitions, certainly in regard to "automated means" and I would strongly advocate in regard to harmful online conduct as well.

It was actually here and quite some time ago, it was either 2017 or 2018 that the high-level expert group on disinformation, the EU's entire expert group that it brought into play, sat in this Chamber. It came and was hosted by Ireland to have this high-level discussion on harmful content and online damage. Some of this is part of the discussion that leads to the audiovisual media services directive and the European Commission's Digital Services Act. The expert group spoke very specifically about algorithms on that day in this Chamber. It spoke about algorithms, automated recommendations, routes to radicalisation on the one side, which is something the Minister has expressed concern about, and on the other side the targeting of vulnerable individuals. For example, on the political side it was about targeting vulnerable individuals based on data about a person's political views which is a special category of personal, sensitive data, but many of the big platforms and advertisers called it "observed data". Because a person has looked at this one video, platforms now consider they can move him or her along towards these other routes. That is a dynamic that rewards heat rather than light. I hope the Minister will engage with us and will bring forward definitions.

I must point out that the note for the information of the Chair to rule amendments Nos. 4, 5, 7, 8, 113, 181, 182 and 187 out of order is that they would require the commission to regulate the use of algorithms, microtargeting and recommender systems. These additional responsibilities would potentially involve a significantly increased expenditure on the part of the media commission and they must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 41. It is not the definition, it is how they process-----

With that consequence again. That is a very slippery slope in that context.

I am just pointing out that that is the information for the Chair, just for the benefit of those watching here and online.

It has been the practice that the functions can be addressed. There is no additional resource requirement or suggestion in our pieces. We will come back to this discussion but this is a really dangerous direction.

I have to support Senator Higgins on that because this is a particularly important area in terms of the regulation of algorithms. This is a debate about whether it is specifically in the legislation or not. I do not accept the argument that it can be ruled out on an additional cost basis. This is about a regulator which is going to be set up to do a particular job. This is just a question around one of its functions. I would support the challenge to that interpretation-----

Standing Order 41 has been argued about by people including me over time when I am not sitting in the Chair so it is a regular. The Government can bring forward items that impose a charge on the Revenue but other Members cannot. That is the argument in Standing Order 41. That of course can be dealt with-----

I appreciate that but I would support-----

It is for the benefit of the people. It is not my interpretation, it is the interpretation of the Bills Office and the Cathaoirleach as such.

That needs to be reviewed.

I do not want to take us away from the amendments we are looking at today. On Senator Higgins’s initial point around certain amendments being ruled out of order, I do not know whether we will get to them today but my own amendments Nos. 86 and 89-----

We will not get to amendments Nos. 86 or 89.

I would not have thought so and that is why, with the indulgence of the Acting Chairperson, I take my opportunity very quickly now to make the point.

Amendments Nos. 86 and 89 refer to ensuring that certain broadcasts will be made available to viewers throughout the entirety of the-----

I appreciate that but I want to make that point. The rationale, much as others have argued, including the Acting Chairperson, that ensuring that sporting bodies that operate on an all-Ireland basis would then sell their broadcasting rights in order that they could be viewed on an all-Ireland basis, in particular those that are in receipt of State and Government support in line with Article 2 of the Constitution making those broadcasts available to viewers throughout the island would somehow place a charge on the Revenue is something I do not understand.

I am sure it is a very good point but it is not relevant to the section.

I hope that when we get to that it will be explained fully.

There are 228 amendments-----

I have said it now so it is on the record.

In fairness we will deal with them in the order that they have been arranged. There is nobody else indicating that they want to speak on section 3. Does the Minister wish to respond to the debate on section 3?

Before we do section 3 will the Minister respond to amendment No. 6 because it has already been discussed with amendment No. 1 in the names of Senators Warfield, Ó Donnghaile, Gavan and Boylan? Does Senator Ó Donnghaile want to move amendment No. 6?

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 10, line 6, to delete “Commissioner” and substitute “Coimisinéir”.

I will withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to move it again.

As the Senators have recognised I do not make the decision in regard to what is ruled out of order. I am happy for my officials to engage with Members between now and the next Stage of the Bill. I will also say that the Bill was written in a tech-neutral fashion, that was the advice we were given from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel in regard to helping to future-proof the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I thank the Minister. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 in the names of Senators Ruane and Higgins have been ruled out of order as they pose a potential charge on the Revenue.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 4 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 7

I move amendment No. 9.

In page 18, line 34, to delete “efficiently.” and substitute the following:“efficiently, including the power to compel any technology company to produce and provide any specific related data or reports which it requests within a reasonable time frame not exceeding one calendar month in order to conduct its functions.”.

The amendment gives the power as the Minister will know to compel a technology company to produce as well as provide any specific related data or reports which it requests within a reasonable timeframe not exceeding one calendar month in order to conduct its functions. We all know too well the importance of lifting the bonnet and looking under the hood of social media companies and big tech and this is one small step towards getting that data.

This is one small step towards getting those data.

I thank the Senators for their amendments. Amendment No. 9 is intended to provide the power to an coimisiún to compel any technology company to produce data or reports when questioned. I note this amendment is drafted quite broadly without specifying any framework by which an coimisiún would compel technology companies to produce such reports. I believe the power to compel the provision of information from regulated entities is adequately assigned to an coimisiún through the Bill as published. An coimisiún has the power to compel information from video-on-demand services. Part 3A of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as inserted by section 8 of the Bill, provides for the establishment of a register of video-on-demand services established in the State, which is a requirement of the revised audiovisual media service directive. Section 46D of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as inserted by section 8 of the Bill, provides that an coimisiún may request further information from a media service provider where the provider notifies an coimisiún that it should be entered onto the register or where the provider is required to change its details on the register.

Under section 46F of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as inserted by section 8 of the Bill, if the media service provider does not provide the information requested, an coimisiún may direct the media service provider to comply with the request. If the media service provider fails to comply with a direction, it shall be deemed guilty of an offence under the Broadcasting Act.

An coimisiún has the power to require information from a relevant online service. Under the Bill, a relevant online service may be any information society service, which covers a vast array of technology companies, from Internet service providers to social media services. The regulatory structure for online safety in the Bill operates by providing an coimisiún the power to designate relevant online services and subject them to online safety codes.

To facilitate an coimisiún making the decision to designate an online service, section 139F of the Broadcasting Act, as inserted by section 44 of the Bill, provides an coimisiún with the power to require the provider of a relevant online service to provide an coimisiún with any information necessary to designate the provider for regulation. Where a provider fails to comply with such a requirement to provide information, it shall be deemed guilty of an offence under the Broadcasting Act.

When a relevant online service is designated for regulation, it is known as a designated online service under the Bill. Section 139O of the Broadcasting Act 2009, inserted by section 44 of this Bill, allows the commission to require a provider of a designated online service to provide the commission with information relating to the provider's compliance with an online safety code. Under this section, the commission may require the information to be provided within seven days, rather than one calendar month, as the amendment suggests. Moreover, this section provides that it is an offence if the provider fails without reasonable excuse to comply or provides false information knowing that it is false or being reckless as to whether it is false.

Section 139O provides that the commission may exercise this power following notification by a member of the super complaints scheme provided by section 139U of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as inserted by section 44 of the Bill. Accordingly, the provisions sought by this amendment are already covered in the Bill.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response on amendment No. 9. I note she has made a number of important points. I ask for permission to withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to resubmit on Report Stage. I have heard what the Minister has advised.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, are related. Amendment No. 11 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 10. Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 18, lines 39 and 40, to delete all words from and including “and” in line 39 down to and including line 40 and substitute the following:

“including the rights to privacy and reputation, are protected,”.

This is a straightforward amendment that I hope the Minister can accept. It is intended to strengthen the language used. It is also balancing what is set out in subsections (2)(a) and (2)(b), where subsection (2)(a) speaks to "the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution, especially those relating to rightful liberty of expression, are upheld" and subsection (2)(b) requires that "the interests of the public, and in particular the interests of children, are protected". Amendment No. 10 seeks to delete paragraph (b) and specifically inserts that "the rights to privacy and reputation, are protected". That is an important distinction.

This time last year, the social media giants of Twitter and Facebook appeared before the committee and discussions were terse. I remember that day well. It was not all apple pie and welcoming what the committee members were saying. Such was the tense nature of the exchanges that on the following Saturday, the respected journalist Martina Devlin of the Irish Independent penned a piece on those exchanges. She referred to her own scenario and talked about attacks on her and occasions when she was named in "exceptionally derogatory terms which left me feeling soiled". There is an important balancing act involved. While acknowledging the democratic value of rightful liberty of expression, we must also ensure the protection of the equal right to privacy and reputation.

Amendment No. 12 concerns the protection of the interests and safety of children, which should inform all policies and practices of the commission. Those concerns should be stated separately in the Bill, apart from the other pieces we are seeking to include dealing with the rights to privacy. It is important to make that distinction. Senator Carrigy referred to the fact that Professor Conor O'Mahony, special rapporteur on child protection to the Government, appeared before the committee and spoke specifically about these issues. As much as possible, the language used must be strong enough to reflect that. The proposals in amendments Nos. 10 and 12 are attempts to make sure that what was discussed at committee is reflected in the Bill.

These amendments are important because they relate to the power and function of the commission. We are going to be setting up this new regulator and must consider the guiding principles under which the new regulator will operate. Our big debate is around how we ensure freedom of expression while at the same time protecting the rights of individuals. With the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk, those issues and the debate about the balancing of those rights has never been more important. We are seeking through these amendments to specifically strengthen the balancing of those rights so that when the commission is considering all of its policies and practices, it is guided by those two elements. How do we get the balance right between freedom of expression, which is very important, and protecting an individual's rights? We believe these amendments are strengthening the legislation. We want specific reference to the safety of children and its inclusion at the core of the commission. We are looking to include a specific section around the interests and safety of children that would inform all policy and practices of the commission. This is core. It is about the guiding principles of the commission. We are thinking of two, three and five years' time. When the commission is making a decision, we must consider what its key functions will be. What are the key public policy considerations we must bear in mind in that regard? For those reasons, we believe these amendments strengthen the Bill and we hope the Minister will accept them.

As I understand it, amendments Nos. 10 and 12 split the section. I wanted to be clear about that. My amendment No. 11 seeks to ensure the interests of children are "protected and promoted". This is trying to be in tune with the clear spirit of the audiovisual directive. That directive is not only intended to protect against harm, it is meant to promote inclusion and participation. I have often argued with American parliamentarians about these matters. Freedom of expression is also the freedom of participation. It is about being able to participate and making sure there are spaces for people to participate.

There is a very strongly established EU principle of exception culturelle, which is the idea that cultural activity cannot be solely commercial, that there is a right to participation in cultural and public life and that measures should be taken to ensure a diversity of persons can do that. This is the positive goal relating to the audiovisual directive. I want to make sure we do not lose sight of that because we often focus on the negative. It is very important that in the functions of the commission, when its members consider the interests of the public, they talk about those interests being protected and promoted. The amendment outlines that idea. It is also in tune with some later amendments we will come to, for example, those relating to public duty and equality in human rights. It is not simply a protective duty but a duty of active promotion. It is the idea that the commission should produce measures. Again, this comes to some of the later things we will consider in the Bill, such as the idea of special programmes around education, inclusion and so forth, in addition to promoting, for example, European works and access to online spaces for community groups. All of that is a positive duty. I want to make sure that is in there.

I will note a matter that does not relate to my amendment. An interesting point was raised by Senator Ó Donnghaile regarding who is served by an all-Ireland body. In the context of those positive duties around access to relevant media and so forth, there may be a case for trying to make our goals of active promotion of access to media very clear. I want to reserve the right, if it proves necessary, which I do not believe it will, to consider if it might be worth examining whether any nuance might be needed in the section relating to the jurisdiction of the State. There are quite a few exceptions in the context of what comes under the jurisdiction of the State. It is important to be inclusive as much as we can and to make sure that we do not have a situation whereby some bodies seem not to be under the jurisdiction of any state. All these states are transposing the audiovisual directive and we want to make sure that online media providers are certainly captured clearly under that jurisdiction. Again, I do not believe that is a concern, but I want to flag that I might examine that section and come back to it on Report Stage, if I have concerns regarding potential loopholes. On this amendment, the wording should be to protect and promote.

I fully support amendment No. 12. When we look at the Bill as it is, and the powers and functions of the commission, it states the commission "shall endeavour to ensure ... that the interests of the public, and in particular the interests of children, are protected". This is an online safety Bill so it is important that we consider that word "safety". It is about the interests and safety of children.

I thank the Senators for their amendments. Amendment No. 10 amends section 7(2) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as amended by section 7 of this Bill, to insert specific reference to the role of an coimisiún in protecting rights to privacy and reputation. The purpose of section 7(2) is to set out the various matters an coimisiún shall seek to ensure in the performance of its functions. I have some concerns regarding a specific reference to the role of an coimisiún in upholding rights to privacy and reputation. These rights are protected through the Constitution in the form of the requirement of the State to protect the good name of every citizen in the form of judgments of our courts and the recognition that the right to privacy is inherent in the personal rights set out in the Constitution. These rights are also protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

I am somewhat wary of inserting language in the Bill that would imply that any of the specific personal rights contained in the Constitution, the charter or the convention on human rights were pre-eminent in some way on other personal rights provisions. I also note that protection and vindication of the right to privacy and reputation are set out in other legislative instruments, specifically the Data Protection Act 2018 and the general data protection regulation in respect of privacy, and the Defamation Act 2009 regarding reputation. A reference to the rights to privacy and reputation may give rise to the expectation that vindicating or protecting these rights is a specific function of the commission and that these rights should have a greater importance than other rights, including others set out in the Constitution, charter and convention. While I will not accept amendment No. 10, I commit to reflecting further on its intent, with a view to considering it further in the context of Report Stage.

Amendment No. 11 proposes to amend section 7(2) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 as amended by section 7 of the Bill, to provide that the interests of the public and, in particular, children would be promoted as well as protected. The question is whether amendment No. 11 would substantially affect the manner in which an coimisiún performs its duties. I absolutely understand the intent of the Senator in seeking to expand the language. However, I am advised that the term "protection", which is already provided for in the Bill in the context of the interests of the public and children, may also encompass the term "promotion" in this context. Again, I do not propose to accept the amendment today, but instead I commit to giving it further consideration in the context of Report Stage.

Amendment No. 12 would also amend subsection 2 to provide for a separate paragraph on the protection of the interests and safety of children. The protection of the rights and interests of children is an objective that all of us in these Houses share. It will be a key component of the work of an coimisiún, particularly in the context of making online safety codes to tackle the prevalence of harmful online content. The key consideration is also whether the amendment would substantially affect the manner in which an coimisiún performs its duties, in particular with regard to the protection of children. Amendment No. 12 is another proposal that I wish to have more time to examine further with a view to returning to the matter on Report Stage.

I appreciate the point the Minister made regarding specific constitutional rights but the corollary is true in that, very specifically in this section, regard is had to the rightful liberty of expression, which is something we believe should be upheld. In the same way we talk about the importance of freedom of expression, that must be balanced by the right of an individual to his or her privacy and reputation. This is the big debate around and will be the challenging job for this commission in the exercise of its powers and functions. This section of the Bill specifically provides for the values enshrined in the Constitution, "especially those relating to rightful liberty of expression". There is no problem with that but we are requesting there is also a balance between an individual's right to privacy and the right to his or her reputation. When the commission is carrying out its powers and functions, it must have regard to both those rights.

Senators Carrigy and Cassells put it very well with regard to amendment No. 12. The Minister is correct that, at its very heart, we want to ensure the online safety of children. That is why this section very specifically deals with the powers and functions of the commission. What is it that will influence the commission's thinking with regard to all of its policies and practices? What are its core guiding principles? That is why we suggest this amendment will strengthen those by providing a very specific section in that regard. We hope that in revising that section the Minister strikes a balance between what could be seen as competing rights and there is a very specific and clear reference to protecting and safeguarding children in all the commission's policies and practices.

To go back to amendment No. 10, it is important that the Minister spoke about reflecting on this. I ask that in doing so she also reflects on what was said before the Oireachtas committee last year by Mr. Ronan Costello, the senior public policy manager at Twitter, who defended the practice of anonymity. People can post what they like under made-up names. Mr. Costello insisted that how accounts behave and not their identities is what is important. That is misleading because if I attack the Minister under some made-up name in an offensive post, I have no fear of repercussions.

Therefore, defending a person's right to reputation is important but I appreciate what the Minister has said and ask her to reflect positively on that as well.

No other Members are offering on amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, at this point. Does the Minister wish to come back in or has she said what she wishes to say?

I have agreed to reflect seriously and further on these three amendments.

I take that on board. I will deal with these as they arose. Amendment No. 10 has been moved. What do Senators Malcolm Byrne and Cassells wish to do with it?

We will withdraw the amendment while reserving the right to reintroduce.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 18, line 40, after “protected” to insert “and promoted”.

With the leave of the House, I will withdraw the amendment while reserving the right to reintroduce it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 18, after line 40, to insert the following:

“(ba) in particular, that the interests and safety of children are protected, and this inform all its policies and practices,”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 19, line 2, after “open” to insert “, inclusive”.

The Minister was saying things can be interpreted in certain ways but with many of the suggestions she is getting around the functions it is important, and all of us have run up against very narrow interpretations of a function. I urge that in general, where it does no harm, to make it clear that there is a function. Again, it does not create obligations but gives that capacity to a commission. Indeed, we may have some members of a commission who favour a very narrow interpretation that might be doing the minimum and we want to empower those who seek to deliver the potential of a commission in that way. In that regard, I always will err on the side that if we hope something might well emerge from interpretation, then why not just put it in. It is a general point.

This amendment is simply saying open, inclusive and pluralistic. That is slightly different because of that same principle of the exception culturelle and the strong principles of cultural diversity and participation in Europe, which mean it is not simply a matter that you get a product designed for you. You want to make the case people can be involved in the creation of broadcasting services and audiovisual on-demand media and that they are part of it. Again, it is the same when we talk about the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. We are not talking simply about services for people with disabilities but about people with disabilities in terms of their participation. While "pluralistic" is fine, it is not the same as "inclusive". Pluralistic might mean there is a diversity of actors but they may all be commercial actors, state actors and so forth. Inclusive is a little different because it creates again that positive sense of saying the commission has a role in creating. As this is culture and media, the remit is not simply to regulate a business sector but to shape what the sphere of culture and participation looks like. One of the aspects of that is that positive role around promoting inclusion. Again, simply saying "open, inclusive and pluralistic" gives space down the line, for example, around the commission's role in areas like community radio and reflecting the web accessibility directive, so it is not simply that people have access to things but reflecting the UNCRPD in the sense of its clear articles on cultural participation.

I thank the Senator. I see the value of adding "inclusive" in there and ensuring broadcast and video-on-demand services are not only open and pluralistic but are open, inclusive and pluralistic. As the Minister with responsibility for culture as well as for media, I have always sought to open up participation in our cultural life to all our citizens in all their diversity. I am therefore happy to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Do not all sit back in shock that something has passed.

Amendments Nos. 14, 22, 23, 30 and 228, which is the last amendment, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I propose to move all the amendments.

The Senator can only move amendment No. 14 at this point.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 19, to delete line 5 and substitute the following:

“(i) the duty not only to satisfy existing demand but to stimulate increased demand for Irish language programming and content, in line with the national aim of restoring the Irish language as a spoken language nationwide,”.

The Senator can speak to amendments Nos. 14, 22, 23, 30 and 228.

Grand. I will speak to them all. I thought I was making life a bit easier for the Acting Chairperson with my haste.

He might have been, but he is not allowed.

Okay. Má tá cead agam, agus mura miste leis an Aire, labhróidh mé ar na leasuithe go léir in áit iad a ghlacadh go haonarach. Tá súil agam gur féidir leis an Aire labhairt ar na leasuithe ina iomláine fosta agus í ag freagairt. Beginning with amendment No. 14, rather than vague mentions of the Irish language, the specific national aim of restoring the Irish language to use as a spoken language, which is already enshrined in other legislation such as the existing Higher Education Authority Act 1971, should be included as an aim to which State bodies relating to broadcasting and the regulation of the media must have regard. As the Bill is currently worded, instead of a core commitment to the use and promotion of Irish as the national language there is simply a broader duty to have regard to "languages and traditions" of the public. This puts the media's responsibility to Irish on the same footing as any other language. This totally undermines the commitment that comes with its status as first official and national language as a core component of the common heritage of humanity that it is uniquely the duty of Ireland to preserve and promote and the role Irish media must play if the Irish language is to survive and thrive. Worse still, it may even make the coimisiún feel it is duty-bound not to promote Irish above any other languages, which would hamper efforts at language revival. The State must have regard for the diversity of cultural and linguistic traditions and identities across our island and it is right to celebrate them all but this should not negate the specific duty we have to the restoration of Irish as the common heritage of all peoples in Ireland and something that unites people across all traditions and identities. We had that greatly exemplified in the recent address to the House by Ms Linda Ervine. As such, we propose to specify the national aim while also maintaining a reference to the linguistic diversity of island's traditions and identities.

On amendment No. 22, Sinn Féin welcomes the recognition in this section of the Bill of the need for an coimisiún na meán to tackle the dual emergencies of our linguistic crisis and our climate crisis and to support our cultural and national heritage. This ties in with what Michael Cronin has to say in his book Irish and Ecology or An Ghaeilge agus an Éiceolaíocht :

Is í croílár na faidhbe maidir leis an ngéarchéim éiceolaíochta ná go bhfuil muid tar éis dul ar strae, toisc go bhfuil muid dall ar an áit faoi leith le stair, le cumhacht filíochta agus tuisceana. Tugann muid neamhaird ar an dochar leanúnach atá á dhéanamh don áit ag gníomhaíochtaí áirithe daonna. Cuidíonn litríocht na Gaeilge linn chun teacht arís ar an eolas riachtanach seo. Muna bhfuilítear in ann an tírdhreach a léamh, cad a tharlaíonn? Easpa measa ar an áit, scrios éiceolaíochta, droch-phleanáil agus faillí i leith fhorbairt inbhuanaithe an oileáin.

If we are serious about recognising these implications and tackling them head-on then we need to ensure the goals and functions we set in law with this Bill are achievable and implemented beyond simply lip-service commitments. The provisions in law must be capable of being monitored and measured. This is why we are proposing to strengthen the wording from simply saying an coimisiún shall "promote and stimulate the development of" to affirming the coimisiún shall "ensure and increase the development and provision of ... programmes in the Irish language, and ... programmes relating to climate change and environmental sustainability". This way, we can count the number of programmes relating to both, year on year, and see if an coimisiún is doing its job. Where there are gaps to filled, an coimisiún can revise its strategies to address any shortcomings.

This would also empower the Coimisinéir Teanga to investigate failures by the media commission to increase the development and provision of programming in the Irish language and thus allowing for true accountability. We know the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, did not live up to its commitments to promote Irish as there were no repercussions and no impetus to improve the situation or even monitor the statistics whereby Dr. John Walsh and Dr. Rosemary Day showed, in their 2018 report on the use of Irish on radio, that some stations, including one covering the largest Gaeltacht population in the country, aired not one hour of Irish for the entirety of 2017 despite the BAI being obliged under the Broadcasting Act to have regard to the role of Irish in the Gaeltacht when granting licences.

On amendment No. 22, Sinn Féin welcomes the recognition in this section of the Bill of the need for an coimisiún na meán to tackle the dual emergencies of our linguistic crisis and our climate crisis and support our cultural and national heritage. This ties in with what Michael Cronin has to say in his Irish and Ecology, or An Ghaeilge agus an Éiceolaíocht: "Is í chroí [7:57] ... an oilean.

We need a sea change in how our broadcasting regulator approaches the Irish language and environmental issues. This amendment would see the vague commitment to promotion enhanced to a measurable commitment to increase the amount of programming in Irish and programming on climate issues.

Similarly to the previous amendment, amendment No. 23 seeks to draw a link between protecting our natural environment and promoting our cultural heritage by including the use of Irish alongside sustainability as goals to be achieved internally in the policies and practices of media service providers. Not only do we seek to include a commitment by an coimisiún to promote the internal use of Irish within media providers, which would go a long way towards normalising it within broadcasters and media to begin with and which could also filter into what is broadcast, but we also seek to replicate the goal of the previous amendment by turning what is a vague obligation to "promote and encourage environmental sustainability" into an obligation to "promote and encourage increased use of the Irish language and environmental sustainability". In this way, we can monitor any such increase to see if the goal is being met, which can shape the coimisiún's approach.

We all acknowledge that the use of both Irish and environmental sustainability in the context of policies and practices of media providers is not satisfactory, even if they often pay lip service to both. As a result, we should not settle for promoting and encouraging the status quo, which would sadly be the result of this Bill if enacted with its current wording. We should instead aim for a measurable increase. The coimisiún's efforts to promote and increase the use of the Irish language internally within media providers could be examined by an Coimisinéir Teanga.

Amendment No. 30 refers to the strategic planning conducted by the commission and suggests that reporting on the progress of the commission's policies should have specific regard to the role of the Irish language in media if we are serious about improving its position and ensuring that an Coimisinéir Teanga never again has to submit reports on the failure of State media corporations to uphold their legal obligations to the national language. As such, Sinn Féin would include the use of Irish as a fourth specific area in respect of which strategic reviews must be taken by the commission, alongside funding, technological and social change, and child protection in respect of broadcasting, audiovisual on-demand media and relevant online services.

Tá súil agam gurb é amendment No. 228 an ceann deireanach. Sinn Féin believes that, as the primary legislation on the regulation and governance of media in this State, the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 should have increasing the visibility and use of Irish in media in public life and ensuring diverse content for Irish speakers as part of its core purpose. As such, we are proposing a number of amendments to strengthen the role of the Irish language in media through this Bill, including amendments with specific reference to the national aim of restoring the use of Irish. This is particularly necessary given the clear failure of the existing provisions on the Irish language in media under the Broadcasting Act 2009. We can see from the reports by Dr. John Walsh and Dr. Rosemary Day that I cited earlier that radio stations pay no heed to the requirement to support the use of Irish, particularly in Gaeltacht areas. An Coimisinéir Teanga had to submit a report to the Houses of the Oireachtas, such was the abject failure of RTÉ to adhere to its obligations with regard to the national language. The existing law has failed. This is a unique opportunity to improve that law and to strengthen the role of Irish in media. This is the first time since an tUachtarán, Michael D. Higgins, was Minister that responsibility for both an Ghaeilge and media has come under the same Department. It would be a terrible shame if we failed to stand up for the Irish language in this legislation so we are offering amendments for the Minister to accept or, at the very least, support, including amendments with the aim of increasing the visibility and use of Irish in the Title to the Bill.

I urge the Minister to take on board or consider these amendments. Amendment No. 14 may not need to delete line 5 but rather include the substitute text as an additional point. It is important to bear in mind the languages and traditions across the island in all of their diversity but there exists a special duty in respect of the Irish language and it is crucial that this be reflected in a body that will have responsibility for the platforms through which most people will be watching cultural products and for the media services codes and so forth that will emerge from this process. It is really important that be there.

I had some similar amendments on this issue in the section on the European works scheme because that scheme talked about programming that had the Irish language as its subject matter but did not talk about programming in the Irish language. Again, there exists a particular role in respect of the Irish language and, I would add, Irish Sign Language. I will indicate now that I may table amendments on Report Stage with regard to these languages. Irish Sign Language is recognised. Legislation that passed through this House, having been initiated by our Cathaoirleach, specifically called for the recognition of Irish Sign Language. This is not the same issue as addressed by some of the general measures in respect of disability and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There is a specific duty with regard to the Irish language and Irish Sign Language. Both of those need to be reflected in the functions. I have proposed some amendments in which I suggest that this be reflected in the grants and programming but I concur with my colleague, who makes a good point in saying that it should be included in the top-level functions.

I thank the Senator for his amendments. Amendment No. 14 to the new section 7(2)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 proposed in section 7 of the Bill deletes a reference to the languages and traditions of the people of the island and Ireland and replaces it with a reference to "the duty not only to satisfy existing demand but to stimulate increased demand for Irish language programming and content, in line with the national aim of restoring the Irish language as a spoken language nationwide". I am not sure that was the intended effect of the amendment. It may have been intended to amend the new section 7(2)(d), which provides that an coimisiún shall, in performing its functions, endeavour to ensure that regulatory arrangements address various matters. I am not in favour of deleting the reference to the languages and traditions of the people of the island of Ireland. That is an important provision in the new section 7(2)(c) as it is important that the policies of an coimisiún in relation to broadcasting and video on-demand services bear in mind all of the diverse languages and traditions on our island. I cannot accept amendment No. 14.

Amendment No. 22 amends section 7(3)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as amended by section 7 of the Bill. This section currently provides that an coimisiún shall:

promote and stimulate the development of—

(i) programmes in the Irish language, and

(ii) programmes relating to climate change and environmental sustainability

The amendment would change the words "promote and stimulate" to "ensure and increase the development and provision of" such programmes. I am strongly in favour of increasing the availability of Irish language programming. That is why I allocated additional funding to TG4. In budget 2021, I secured an additional €3.5 million and, in budget 2022, I secured an additional €4.2 million for TG4. As regards the role of an coimisiún, I am satisfied that the language of promoting and encouraging is sufficient to ensure the production of programming in the Irish language. I am worried that the replacing the term "promote and stimulate" with "ensure and increase" would imply that an coimisiún, as regulator, could impinge on the editorial independence of a broadcaster or video on-demand service in a manner not set out in the Broadcasting Act 2009. I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Amendment No. 23 amends section 7(3)(e) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as amended by section 7 of the Bill, to require an coimisiún to promote and encourage increased use of the Irish language in the policies and practices of broadcasting, video on-demand and relevant online services. I am conscious that the amendment would apply not only to broadcasting and video on-demand services, but also to relevant online services. As set out in section 3(2)(t) of the Bill, a relevant online service may be any information society service. This covers a vast array of technology companies from Internet service providers to social media services. Relevant online services are effectively the pool of services that, following an appropriate risk analysis, an coimisiún may designate for regulation and the application of online safety codes. I am concerned about the impact of this amendment on services whose content is primarily user-generated and on relevant online services that may be less likely to be designated for regulation, such as Internet service providers. I do not think the impact of this amendment is clear, although I understand its intention. I do not propose to accept it today but I will ask my officials to reflect further on it.

Amendment No. 30 has the effect of providing that an coimisiún may undertake strategic reviews of the sectors it regulates in respect of broadcasting in the Irish language. I again propose not to accept the amendment today but to consider it in the context of Report Stage.

Amendment No. 228 proposes to amend the Title of the Bill to insert the words “to increase the visibility and use of Irish as a spoken language in media and public life and ensure a diversity of content for the Irish-speaking community;”.

The amendment amends the Title, stating that an objective of the Bill is “to increase the visibility and use of Irish as a spoken language in media and public life and ensure a diversity of content for the Irish-speaking community;”. Any proposals to amend the Title of a Bill must be considered carefully. For that reason I do not propose to accept the amendment today but will return to it on Report Stage.

I thank the Minister for her answers and I do not totally rule out hope for Report Stage based on what she has said. We probably disagree on some of the technical aspects but that is fair enough. She has committed, particularly in terms of the amendment, and said that she supports an increase in visibility and bolstering the Irish language. Let us find a way to make that work, reach a compromise and try on Report Stage to ensure that is properly reflected and represented in the legislation. I hear what the Minister said about amendments Nos. 23, 30 and 228. I will follow the guidance of the Chair on what to do.

We will reach the amendments in due course and I thank the Senator.

I withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to resubmit.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 15 is in the names of Senators Warfield, Ó Donnghaile, Gavan and Boylan. Amendments Nos. 15 to 19, inclusive, are related. Amendment No. 16 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 15. Amendments Nos. 15 to 19, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 19, to delete lines 8 and 9 and substitute the following:

“(iii) their diversity of traditions and identities, including religious, ethical, cultural, linguistic and gender diversity, and”.

The amendment is very similar to amendment No. 14 and, therefore, I do not intend to speak on it at any great length.

On amendment No. 17, the Bill's commitment to access for people with disabilities is commendable. Sinn Féin supports the provision entirely but would like to see it go further. True inclusivity requires that access is available not only to participate as a passive audience in terms of media content but that the experiences of people with disabilities are adequately, and appropriately, reflected in that content and that people with disabilities are on screen and are at the heart of producing what is on screen not just watching from home.

According to Census 2016, one in seven of the population has a disability, yet that is not reflected in what we see on television. A new coimisiún na meán should monitor that and put measures in place to ensure proper representation for people with disabilities. We still have a long way to go towards delivering on the recommendations of A Strategy for Equality 1996 within the Report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, which called for steps to be taken to end the isolation and stereotyping of people with disabilities in the media, including to "look at ways in which people with disabilities can be made more visible on television both as presenters and participants". This Bill is a chance to put that aspiration into law and task coimisiún na meán with its delivery.

Amendment No. 16 is in the names of Senators Byrne and Cassells.

Amendment No. 16 does what it says on the tin and seeks to insert the term "socio-economic” as part of the categories.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are in the names of Senators Higgins and Ruane. They can speak to their own amendments and to the group of amendments.

I support Senator Byrne's amendment and the insertion of the term "socio-economic”.

I will make two points about the previous discussion on the Irish language. The Minister's main argument was on the inadvertent deletion of line 5. It is important to put in something on the Irish language and Irish Sign Language. I hope that is something that might come true.

This section deals with functions. There is a number of constructive amendments and I support some of them. Some of my amendments contradict them in terms of placing. There is an opportunity to take on board a number of constructive amendments that have been propose to the section. I support the inclusion of the term "socio-economic" as suggested by Senators Byrne and Cassells.

One of my amendments, No. 18, seeks to insert "and the right to and importance of cultural participation”, which relates to the point made about visible representation. This is the piece that concerns persons with disabilities. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is really clear. It is about cultural participation. It is not simply a matter that one can get or access a service; it is a matter of one being part of it. On page 19, line 11, there is reference to "accessibility to those services". Perhaps that is out of date in the context of where we are now. We are past the discussion on access and the current discussion on disability concerns inclusion and full participation and, therefore, it would be appropriate if we were to strengthen that language. I have put forward one proposal, Senator Ó Donnghaile has put forward a really good proposal and the Minister has spoken on this area. I imagine that between everybody she will be able to find some way to include in a stronger way that sense of participation rather than simply a passive role as consumers of media.

Senators Ruane and I tabled amendment No. 19. It is important as it seeks to insert the following: “(ii) support equality, human rights and participation in cultural life,”. I may split that line into two amendments on Report Stage because they have slightly different remits. The term "participation in cultural life" reflects that AV principle of participation. The words "equality, human rights" reflect that public duty to have equality and human rights. Again, this body, like every public body, has an obligation to actively promote equality and human rights. That it is good practice that would be reflected in this section, which sets out the commission's work.

In terms of the diversity of traditions and identities, it is good that the legislation shows all of the diversities, including gender diversity.

I support the amendments. I urge the Minister to take this legislation as an opportunity because Senators on all sides seek to make it be positive for citizens and persons in Ireland.

I support these amendments and what has been said. While language is important to ensure these references are hardwired in the legislation there is a real issue as to how the commission will actively promote same. I know that we are not talking about amendment No. 112 but it sets down a gender quota to ensure there is a fair gender balance in broadcasting both the spoken word and music. While we probably will not reach the amendment, it is important to note that the commission must actively embrace targets and quotas to ensure that these aspirations are made real and, therefore, I urge the Minister when she examines the rest of the amendments to consider amendment No. 112 as part of what we are talking about here.

Probably not this afternoon or this evening.

I thank the Senators for their amendments. I wish to bring to their attention, in terms of issues that I raised about these amendments and the previous group, that section 460 refers to media service rules that enable the media commission to make rules regarding accessibility, including regarding sign language service provision. It also gives effect to the provision of the AV media services to increase accessibility to media services for persons with disabilities.

Amendment No. 15 would add linguistic diversity to other areas of the diversity of the people of the island of Ireland that is set out in the section. This is an important potential addition to the Bill as it recognises the role not only of Irish and English on the island but of all other languages that are spoken and written here, and which now form part of our cultural life. I have concerns about the second part of the amendment as it seeks to change the term to "their diversity of traditions and identities". While I recognise the intent of the amendment, it may have the opposite effect to that intended by restricting the term "diversity" to that of "diversity of traditions and identities" rather than all of the other forms of diversity of the people of the island of Ireland.

For that reason, I will not accept the amendment today, but I propose to return to it on Report Stage.

Amendment No. 16 seeks to amendment section 7(2)(c)(iii) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as inserted by section 7 of the Bill, by adding an additional form of diversity. In this case, it would add socioeconomic diversity to the forms of diversity. As the Senators will be aware, the programme for Government contains a commitment to examine the introduction of a new ground of discrimination based on socioeconomic disadvantaged status to the employment, equality and equal status legislation. My colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, launched a review of the Equality Acts on foot of this commitment. I propose not to accept the amendment today, but I believe it could be a valuable amendment to the Bill. To ensure consistency with the work of my colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, I will ask my officials to engage with his officials with a view to allowing further examination on Report Stage.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 both amendment section 7(2)(c)(iv) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as inserted by section 7 of the Bill. Amendment No. 17 inserts a reference to the visible representative of people with disabilities in the broadcasting and on-demand services available in the State. Amendment No. 18 inserts a reference to the right to and importance of cultural participation of people with disabilities. Both amendments would form valuable additions to the Bill. I would like further time to consider the amendments. I propose not to accept them today, but to return to them on Report Stage.

Amendment No. 19 requires that the commission shall endeavour to ensure the regulatory arrangements to support equality, human rights and participation in cultural life. I agree that these are important principles in guiding the work of the commission. I thank the Senators for their amendment. I will not make the amendment today, but I will take it away for further consideration and discussion on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 19, line 8, after “cultural,” to insert “socio-economic,”.

The Minister has committed to look at this. It will give effect to the commitment in the programme for Government.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 19, line 11, after “to” to insert “, and visible representation on,”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 19, line 11, after “services” to insert “and the right to and importance of cultural participation”.

The equality and human rights component of the legislation is crucial. Even if the equality grounds evolve, it is important that they are named. I know the Minister has said she will engage further on Report Stage-----

This has already been discussed. The Senator can only move it-----

This is determining my decision.

The Senator can speak to the section.

It is important that we have discussion in between. I do not think we want to have to start from scratch on Report Stage. Let us make sure that we are not all producing five versions of the same amendment on Report Stage, but that we discuss this in between.

I have given that commitment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 19, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

“(ii) support equality, human rights and participation in cultural life,”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are related. Amendment No. 21 is a physical alternative to No. 20. Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 19, line 16, to delete “and societal change” and substitute “and societal and environmental matters”.

I am trying to tackle two issues with this. I am open to working with the Minister and the Department on them. I am concerned about the potential inadvertent effect of mentioning technological and societal change. Many relevant technological and societal issues of concern already exist. If we are only giving the commission the remit for regulatory arrangements that take account of technological and societal change, there is a potential gap. I know that is pedantic, but it is a concern that I have and I always seek to ensure language is appropriate. I have suggested the inclusion of "societal and environmental matters". If there is a particular reason for including "societal change", I would be open to that and to have an additional point which relates to technological, societal and environmental matters. I am addressing two matters here.

It is important to take account of technological, societal and environmental matters because of the concerns about the environmental impact and measures in respect of broadcasting and online activity. We know information on that constantly emerges. The training of an algorithm to do something can have the same impact as five or six Boeing plane flights across the Atlantic. We are talking, therefore, about digital activities leaving a major environmental footprint. That is not to say that we should turn the computers off. It is increasingly clear, however, that we need nuance in the context of how we address this matter. It is not that beloved family photographs all have to go by the wayside. It is a question of whether Amazon Web Services, cryptocurrency mining or whatever else are the best use of our energy resources at this crucial time. We need to look at the building blocks. This does not tackle everything relating to data and the environment, but it addresses online media actors who are significant players in that area. There would potentially be scope in the regulatory remit to address the environmental impact.

Perhaps this can be dealt with elsewhere. Section 7(3)(e) states contains the phrase "promote and encourage environmental sustainability in the policies and practices of providers of broadcasting services". That is one of the goals. Does the commission have the regulatory powers that it needs? Is this reference sufficient? Does it need to be copper-fastened in section 7(2)(d)? The Minister has spoken on these issues. If she keeps the term "societal change", I would add that of "and environmental considerations". I am trying to ensure that we are not behind the curve on this, because it will soon become pressing.

I thank the Senator for tabling amendments Nos. 20 and 21, which would have the effect of requiring the commission to endeavour to ensure that regulators take account of societal and environmental matters. Addressing climate change and environmental degradation is one of the greatest challenges of our time. It will impact not only the media sector, but our entire society. It is important for the commission to consider these matters. That is why section 7(4) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as inserted by section 7 of the Bill, requires the commission to consider "policies of the Government and of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in respect of climate change and environmental sustainability." Would amendments Nos. 20 and 21 have a similar effect to the existing provisions? I ask the Senator for more time to reflect on this. I will return to the matter on Report Stage.

I am open to that. There is content relating to the promotion of messages about climate and the environment and there are the mechanics of how emissions are produced. Some measures and policies are less wasteful in comparison with others. A thousand choices are made about online service providers. Do they refresh every nanosecond or every millisecond? There are many choices about the training of algorithms and systems to provide recommendations.

There are many choices and options there. Again, we want to ensure that the commission is empowered, through its media service codes, to promote the best choices and options on that. I am happy to engage with the Minister. I am a little concerned that section 7 might adhere more towards the content side, whether harmful or positive, whereas it is more the practices and the service codes that I am keen to go after. However, I am happy to discuss in between.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 19, line 16, after “change” to insert “and environmental considerations”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 19, to delete line 27 and substitute the following:

“(d) ensure and increase the development and provision of—”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 19, line 31, after “encourage” to insert “increased use of the Irish language and”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 are related. Amendment No. 25 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 24. Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 19, to delete lines 34 to 37 and substitute the following:

“(f) encourage research, promote, endorse, evaluate and approve educational initiatives and community awareness programmes and activities, including in the area of online safety, and co-operate for that purpose with educational bodies and community awareness programmes, and otherwise promote public awareness, knowledge and understanding, in relation to matters connected to its functions,”.

The purpose of this amendment is to expand existing functions in the Bill, which equips the media commission with an educational remit. The current provision is welcome. However, this relates to all the functions of the media commission, not just the online safety functions. The Bill in its current form does not give the commission the power to evaluate and regulate the wide-ranging educational programmes on online safety that go into schools and community awareness programmes. The amendment seeks to provide the commission with the power to evaluate and regulate educational and community awareness online safety programmes. The Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media recommended that a regulatory role in online safety education be explicitly included in the Bill. Similar recommendations were made by the joint committee on education last August. The amendment seeks to act on those recommendations and would equip the media commission with an evaluative and regulatory function as it relates to online safety education.

I do not disagree with Senator Ruane. Our amendment No. 25, proposes simply adding the phrase "to digital and media literacy generally,” and is intended to capture the same thing particularly because the relevant paragraph specifies"in relation to matters connected with its functions". We are trying to broaden it to cover areas of digital and media literacy more widely. There is a fear that this provision might be interpreted very narrowly around specific functions of the commission, whereas we see it as having a broader role. It would be sensible to consider a combination of the two proposed amendments. There is a very important regulatory role for the commission but another key element is for it to be engaged in digital media literacy in all its forms in promoting online safety. Therefore it is essential that the subsection about its purpose is as strong as possible.

Both amendments are complementary. A really important point about amendment No. 24 is that it refers to community and community awareness programmes. At the moment it relates to educational initiatives and activities and educational bodies. Ireland has one of the lowest levels of digital literacy in the EU. That is shocking when we have these tech giants all around and we are early adopters in respect of lots of technology, so there is an assumption. However, EU studies have found that 40% or more people in Ireland lack basic digital skills. We have a massive digital divide around skills and empowerment. That is not about working in the sector but people being able to do basic things. Lots of people lose a huge amount of independence because they have to rely on others for their online engagement. That is why I am concerned at the way it is framed now. It is about education and people who are in the education system and the educational bodies. While we have silver surfers and people of every age who are incredibly skilled, a huge number of people in the community are not and also have literacy issues. There are things later about promoting literacy and media literacy but there is a danger that this box could be ticked by something for schools or university and that we would end up not delivering the really important area. There are other things here too like evaluation. We are valuing what is working and what is not. That is something that is in our amendment.

On the general data protection regulation, GDPR, something I have pushed for and continue to do so is the idea that a proportion of the fines from GDPR should be ring-fenced for digital empowerment because that would effectively support people in their data rights. It is about empowerment. Were I to add anything to our amendment it would be "empowerment" as well as "understanding". It might seem as though it is very similar to what is there already but there is a really important nuance and difference. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.

I thank the Senators for their amendments. Section 7(3)(f) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as inserted by section 7 of the Bill, is designed to ensure that the commission will play a strong role in encouraging research and in promoting or endorsing education initiatives, including by co-operation for that purpose with education bodies and in promoting public awareness, knowledge and understanding to matters connected to its functions. This section is designed to ensure that an coimisiún and specifically the online safety commissioner will have a role in carrying out education initiatives such as public information campaigns and will also work with existing education bodies such as the Department of Education, Webwise.ie and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The commissioner will also be able to endorse third-party providers for online safety education materials which will help schools to source appropriate and robust online safety materials.

Amendment No. 24 seeks to amend section 7(3)(f) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as inserted by section 7 of the Bill, to extend the requirement of an coimisiún to encourage, promote and endorse education initiatives to cover the evaluation and approval of education initiatives and community awareness programmes and activities. While I understand the intention of the amendment, I have concerns about providing for any role for an coimisiún to evaluate or approve education initiatives, as that would imply a role for it in accreditation. It is not intended that an coimisiún would act as a professional accreditation body for educators similar to the Teaching Council or the Medical Council. I fear it would be an over-step into an area already led by existing educational bodies.

In considering any amendments that might expand or be seen to expand the functions of an coimisiún, I am conscious of not unduly expanding its scope into other areas of policy or other bodies or regulators with the effect that its core functions might suffer. The core functions are to enforce the new regulatory framework for online safety and the updated frameworks for video on-demand services. In that regard, it will play a very strong role in supporting education initiatives. The Bill as published sets out a very significant expansion of the role of an coimisiún in education as against the role fulfilled by the BAI. Therefore I do not intend to accept the amendment.

I recognise the intention of amendment no. 25. I am of the view that the provisions of the Bill as initiated and as read at Second Stage already encompass the role envisaged by the amendment for the commission in respect of media literacy, I can see the merit in specifying the role. However, I do not think that it is appropriate to specify a role for digital literacy. That is primarily the responsibility of the Ministers for Education and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. They are advancing strategies such as that on the ten-year adult literacy for life and through the early years in school system. I am happy to arrange for my officials to engage with the Departments so while I reject the amendment, I welcome further discussion on Report Stage.

To pick up on some of that, I do not think everything in the world of online safety needs to be attached to any sort of accreditation. Again, that is placing it in a particular framework in terms of people accessing education and training and having awareness of online digital safety. That does not bring it right down to a community level where people are not engaging in gaining accreditation or undertaking a curriculum in this stuff. They might only be involved in a local centre, an old folks' home or any of these other places into which this actually needs to go. I suggest that we come back with an amendment on Report Stage that still focuses on how that reach goes into community awareness. It would potentially remove the phrase "evaluate and approve", but still have something in there that acknowledges that the online safety piece needs to go further than educational institutions right into community settings where education is received in some very different ways. If people are worried about it affecting the accreditation space, we are very willing to look at removing those words and focusing on an amendment that still includes the community element.

By way of example, say a person spends a long time in prison and is going to be rehabilitated into the world having been let out. If he or she has spent 20 years in prison, in Loughan House or any of the open centres, he or she will have had no access to any sort of digital literacy or online safety.

There is also OnlyFans. A whole area of harm reduction needs to happen in that space. Nobody is being taught about how to keep themselves safe online if that is the world they are going to enter. There are a number of other spaces that will just not be appropriate to educational settings. Something which focuses that community element but removes the term "evaluate" would potentially be positive.

I thank Senator Ruane very much. How stands the amendment?

Does the Minister want to come back in briefly on that?

As I said, I understand the intention but my fear, particularly in the context of the phrase "evaluate and approve", was that what is envisaged in the current wording would hugely expand the role of an coimisiún and take it away from its core functions. If the Senator is willing to withdraw the amendment, I am happy to see how she might rework the wording. As already stated, we will engage between with the officials between now and Report Stage. I am happy to arrange that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 19, line 37, after “functions,” to insert “and to digital and media literacy generally,”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 19, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:

“(fa) engage with the Federation of Irish Sport and its membership to promote online safety and compliance with this Act,”.

I want to point out that I asked the Bills Office to add Senator Cassells' name to amendment No. 26 but, unfortunately, it has not made its way onto the Order Paper.

It is on the record of the House now anyway.

At a recent GAA congress, Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael, Mr. Larry McCarthy, made comments about the amount of abuse directed at amateur referees, players, etc., within the association and the need for that to be tackled. My reason for putting forward this amendment is that we would engage with the Federation of Irish Sport. For clarity, the Federation of Irish Sport comprises 110 national governing bodies and sporting organisations across the country that have possibly more than 1 million members. By engaging with all those sporting organisations and asking them to adapt their codes of conduct, which all those organisations have and which all their members sign up to, I think this will give strength to and compliance with online safety. It would mean that all those organisations would actually put supports in place for any of their members who suffer from online abuse. They would be able to tackle any abuse that does take place online because they have it as part of the codes of conduct within their sporting organisations. As I said, the national governing bodies go from the Aldi Community Games right to Weightlifting Ireland and comprise more than 1 million members. It is an easy way of getting all the sporting organisations that represent so many people on board to monitor online safety within their own membership. As I said, changing and adapting their own codes of conduct to comply with this Bill would mean that they would be able to impose sanctions on anyone who breaks the relevant code.

I support Senator Carrigy's amendment. He and I, and, indeed, all members of the committee, have engaged extensively with many sporting organisations throughout the course of the deliberations. We have heard their experiences both positive and negative from the online sphere and they have made their contributions towards this Bill.

Senator Carrigy specifically mentioned Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael, Mr. Larry McCarthy, who received much media attention for his address to the congress at the start of the year when he specifically called for us as legislators to look at the online abuse of players. He drew a distinction between professional and amateur sportspeople. He did so on the basis that the amateur sportsperson has to get up on a Monday morning and go to work and live a completely different life to the one he or she occupies in a professional sporting scenario. Mr. McCarthy called for specific protections for those not just in the GAA but in all amateur codes in the country. That is what sparked the debate. He just wanted a debate in the context of this piece of legislation and for it to be recognised. The all-encompassing way in which Senator Carrigy worded the amendment in terms of engagement with the Federation of Irish Sport is the proper and correct way to accomplish that. I support the amendment.

I support Senator Carrigy's amendment. I also support the comments of Senator Cassels, who touched on the point with regard to amateur sports. The level of abuse directed at the people to whom he referred is totally unacceptable. It is typically said to me that many professional sportspeople are well paid, but that is not the point. The point is that no abuse should be directed towards anybody online, regardless of whether they are professional or amateur.

I thank my fellow Senators for the support. I compliment the GAA on tackling this matter head-on and on starting work in respect of it prior to this legislation being put in place.

I thank Senator Carrigy for tabling amendment No. 26. We are all aware that sportspeople are being targeted from the side of the pitch, on the athletic ground and in the stadium or arena. The problem has been particularly abhorrent in certain sports. I am acutely conscious that social media has made it much easier to target abuse at our sportspeople. That is why it would be important for Coimisiún na Meán to be established as soon as possible to allow it to begin to make binding online safety codes to tackle the prevalence of harmful online content such as cyberbullying on social media platforms. I am aware, however, that the issuance of the codes is only one part of the solution to the abuse of sportspeople.

As the Senator's amendment indicates, it will be vital that an coimisiún works with bodies across different sectors such as sports, education and culture to promote online safety. It is because of the wide array of bodies with which an coimisiún will be required to work that I would be cautious about specifying any one particular body with which it must engage.

Section 7 of the Bill inserts section 32 into the Broadcast Act 2009, which provides that an coimisiún may enter into co-operation agreements with a body established in the State. This section will enable the commission to engage with bodies such as the Federation of Irish Sport and, indeed, a singular national governing body, NGV, such as the GAA, the FAI, the IRFU or the Camogie Association. It would also allow for engagement with Sport Ireland as the statutory body charged with developing sport in the country. I am aware that Sport Ireland is already carrying out work in this area and has produced a staying safe online resource. Ultimately, I am reluctant to specify a role for a specific body in the Bill. As a result, I cannot accept this amendment today. Rather, I would like to see an coimisiún in a position to exercise its capacity to co-operate with bodies across multiple sectors. I propose to reject this amendment for now but to return to the matter at Report Stage, if the Senator is agreeable, and we can liaise regarding an alternative and perhaps less specific form of wording.

I will withdraw and reserve the right to reintroduce.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 20, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

“(4A) In performing its functions the Commission shall prioritise child safety and shall have regard to policies of the Government and of the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and to public bodies whose activities are concerned with those matters.”.

Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 are quite similar. I will speak to-----

The purpose of amendment No. 27 is, again, simply to require the commission to prioritise child safety.

It will ensure the policies of the commission are in line with the policies of the Government, and in particular the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. It will simply strengthen a provision in the same way as the relevant provisions in the Act with regard to climate change. The work of the commission will be in line with the Government's policy on climate change, which we strongly support, and this will mean similar provisions will apply with regard to policies on child safety. The amendment very much does what it says on the tin.

Section 7(2) of the Act, as amended by section 7 of the Bill, states the commission shall ensure the interests are protected, although I do understand the intention of the Senators' amendment. While I will not accept it, I will ask my officials to consult officials in the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth regarding the wording of the proposed amendment, with a view to returning to the matter on Report Stage.

I stress the importance of this, which I am sure the Minister realises. We will withdraw the amendment but reserve the right to reintroduce it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 20, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

“(4A) In performing its functions the Commission shall have regard to issues of addiction, in particular gambling, and shall have regard to policies of the Government and of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister for Health, and to public bodies whose activities are concerned with those matters.”.

This amendment is in a similar vein. In the legislation, there is specific reference to certain policies of the Government, in particular regarding climate action and communications, and rightly so in respect of the former. The focus of this amendment is equally important. I feel strongly about this issue because it figured prominently during our earlier debates. I am conscious gambling legislation is being brought forward and please God, by the end of the year, a gambling commissioner will have been appointed. The amendment will ensure we have due regard for the work of the bodies in this State that are entrusted to deal with gambling.

When we discussed the addiction levels online in the sphere of gambling, it was frightening beyond belief. We are talking about a multibillion euro industry in this country, which is prepared to ravage the health and mental well-being of young people, old people, male and female – it does not care. It is insidious. It uses technology to penetrate through to the very vulnerable and to the prominent people who are trying to expose it. I refer to people such as Paul Merson in England, who lost every penny he made as a professional sportsperson. He has liaised with broadcasters to highlight the fact these guys can create case files on people. If they know someone has an addiction and is pumping enough money into gambling, they will create a case file to keep the person hooked. It is the most insidious industry in this country and we have pandered to it for too long. Its representatives used to walk around Leinster House like they owned the joint, bringing politicians away for freebies. It is a disgrace what gambling companies have done to people in this country, as anyone who has a family member or a friend who has been affected by gambling will know. It is glorified, and it will be glorified again this week in Punchestown as though it is part of our national psyche; it is not.

The amendment will put the issue of addiction, and in particular gambling addiction, on a par with the importance of Government policies on climate change and environmental sustainability. We want to see that reflected because it formed such an integral part of our discussions in committee. We are going to tackle this issue strongly. The companies know it is coming. It is making them very uncomfortable that the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, is taking them on. I hope it is as uncomfortable for these guys as it is for a horse facing The Chair in the Grand National. In the interim, I want to see a response reflected in the Bill because the Internet is the mechanism by which the companies use the platforms. They do not care about the bookies anymore. That is irrelevant. The Internet is where they try to get people hooked, and I ask the Minister to reflect positively on the amendment.

It will be difficult to follow Senator Cassells's passionate and eloquent contribution. I will support the amendment, but it is important to highlight that it is in some ways a timid amendment. We should not miss the opportunity to refer to gambling advertising but, in fact, we need to ban it. Our party had a Bill before this House a month ago on the issue, which the Government parties supported, but we need to press on with it. While it is important to refer to gambling advertising in the important Bill before us, I urge the Government parties to press on with the banning of gambling advertising. We will not properly tackle the ravaging of vulnerable persons by gambling companies in this country unless there is an outright ban. I support what Senator Cassells said, therefore, but we need to go further with an outright ban.

I wish to add my voice to the amendment. In the context of our discussions on the use of recommender systems and so on, they very much tie in with the banning of gambling advertising and with ensuring the advertising is not as targeted as it tends to be, with the profiling and microtargeting people. The issues are related. I will support the amendment but we need to strengthen the provisions elsewhere to prevent the profiling of people.

I support the comments of Senators Cassells, Sherlock and Ruane. Despite all the protestations, advertising for gambling is getting worse. I watch TV and content online and it is getting worse by the week. It is appalling. As other Senators said, it leaves destruction all over the place. I fully agree we need to ban the advertising. It has gone beyond where it should be. There have always been gambling shops on high streets and I like the odd flutter myself, but online gambling is destructive and dangerous. Gambling, when it gets out of hand, is bad in any event, but online gambling has created significant problems in this country, as Senator Cassells said. Many families and young people are suffering, so we have to take strong action.

I am conscious that legislation pertaining to gambling is due to come before us and, as that commissioner has not yet been established, I did not want to cross over between the two issues. I accept what Senator Sherlock said but I was cognisant of avoiding that. The intention of the amendment was to include a reference in order that, when that office has been established, the online safety commissioner will work in tandem with the other commissioner.

I agree with the Senators that addiction, and in particular gambling addiction, poses a major challenge to our society, not least when it involves young people and children. That is why the establishment of a gambling regulator, focused on public safety and well-being and with the power to regulate gambling advertising on websites and apps, was a commitment in the programme for Government. As Senators will be aware, my colleague, the Minister for Justice, published the general scheme of the gambling regulation Bill in October, which will establish a new gambling authority. The general scheme indicates the Bill will include a specific definition of "gambling", an exclusionary register by which persons may voluntarily exclude themselves from accessing gambling activities and provisions that will allow the gambling authority to make codes regulating the advertising of gambling.

While I intend not to accept the amendment, I will ask my officials to consult officials in the Departments of Justice and Health with regard to its wording, with a view to returning to the matter on Report Stage.

I acknowledge what the Minister said and, therefore, I will withdraw it and reserve the right to reintroduce it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 20, after line 40, to insert the following:

“(iiia) the protection of workers’ rights;”.

It is accepted within the Bill that the repeated viewing of harmful content carries a risk of harm or of being desensitised to harmful content.

This risk is particularly relevant when it concerns staff-----

I must now ask the Senator to report progress. He can continue next time.

I will, or someone in my stead will.

I thank the Minister for attending.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
Top
Share