A range of Government Departments and agencies have a role to play in relation to online safety. In recognition of the whole of government approach required, in July 2018, the Taoiseach launched the Action Plan for Online Safety 2018-19. The Action Plan involves a wide range of actions, across six Government Departments – Communications, Climate Action and Environment; Education and Skills; Justice and Equality; Children and Youth Affairs; Health; and Business Enterprise and Innovation, recognising that online safety is not the responsibility of just one Department and signifying the range and breadth of the issues involved.
Children First operates on the premise that it is the responsibility of everyone in society to keep children and young people safe from harm. This responsibility includes keeping children safe from harm online. As part of the Action Plan for Online Safety, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs committed to amending the Children First Guidance to include a specific reference to the need to consider online safety in the completion of a Child Safeguarding Statement. An addendum to the Guidance, clarifying the need to consider online safety in the preparation of risk assessments and Child Safeguarding Statements, was finalised and published on the Department’s website in January 2019. In addition, Tusla has revised its template for the completion of Child Safeguarding Statements to refer to the need to consider online risks to children if a service provides access to the internet.
As part of the government response to Covid-19, in late April, I as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs launched a range of supports for parents and children to support them during this challenging time. The first initiative is a new online gov.ie resource for parents, entitled ‘Parents Centre’, which brings together high quality information and online resources for parents into one portal. Parents Centre provides links to a wide variety of material including around learning, parenting and supports that are available. It also includes links to Webwise, an initiative of the Department of Education and Skills, which is the key internet safety online access point for parents in Ireland. As a response to Covid-19, the Webwise Parents Hub has recently been updated with online safety advice for parents, including around screen time as well as with the publication of ‘A Parent’s Guide for a Better Internet’, covering topics including managing technology use at home, social networking tips and dealing with cyberbullying.
The second initiative is ‘Let’s Play Ireland’, an online portal on gov.ie, providing access to a range of play resources for children. It is intended that the ideas on the website will encourage parents to support their children to use their imagination including ideas on how to use resources that can be found at home. The portal contains a section on screen time which includes tips for families on how to find a reasonable balance between time spent on screens and time for other types of play and activities, including family time. Additional resources will be continually developed and added to the ‘Let’s Play Ireland’ portal.
Computer apps and games, and in-app purchases on games and apps, are subject to the provisions of general consumer protection legislation which is the responsibility of the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. I have been informed by her Department that Directive (EU) 2019/770 on contracts for the supply of digital content and digital services (the ‘Digital Content Directive’) introduces new protections for consumers and sets out a range of quality and other requirements with which digital content and digital services must comply along with remedies for consumers where these requirements are not met. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation will transpose the Directive into Irish law by 1st July 2021 and the legislation will come into force with effect from 1st January 2022.