Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Questions (549)

Emer Higgins


549. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Education the status of the Action Plan for Online Safety that outlines the objectives that were achieved and the way outstanding objectives will be achieved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37006/20]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Recognising that online safety is not the responsibility of any one Department, a Government Action Plan for Online Safety was published in July 2018. The key objective of the Plan was to set out and implement actions, over a short 18 month period, that were achievable and which have the greatest impact on Online Safety for everyone.

The Action Plan was implemented under the guidance of a Sponsors Group established for that purpose.

The Sponsors Group comprised representatives of the then six key Government Departments with responsibility for online safety namely:

- Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) leads on structured engagements by Departments with online platforms; and review of the Audio Media Visual Services Directive; and also provides the secretariat to the National Advisory Council for Online Safety

- Department of Education and Skills (DES) leads on schools policy development; Webwise; support for schools, teachers, students and parents.

- Department of Justice and Equality (DJE) leads on oversight of hotline.ie; legislative changes to criminal law; liaison with an Garda Síochána on implementation/enforcement issues; and disbursement of EU funding

- Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) leads on consultative engagement with children and young people, including through Comhairles, and Children First guidance

- Department of Health (D/Health) leads on the development of online mental health tools that augment existing services and implementation of Healthy Ireland

- Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) leads on oversight of the E-commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) and coordination of the EU Digital Single Market strategy

The Department of Education & Skills chaired the Sponsored Group for the duration of the 18 month plan.  The Action Plan was based around five goals and set out twenty five specific actions (with 48 constituent actions), to be progressed over the period of the Plan which commenced in July 2018 and ended December 2019.  By the end of 2019, 44 of the 48 actions had been fully achieved.   Significant progress was made in the implementation of the remaining four remaining actions which relates to ongoing development in regulation and legislation and include:

1. revising the legislative framework and regulatory oversight structure through the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill (action 17.2 DCCAE)

2. working with industry to produce a practical guide for online platforms to encourage a standardised approach to best practice in online safety at all stages of design, development and roll out (action 15.1 DCCAE) 

3. increasing Internet Service Providers sign up to codes of practice and ethics (action 13.2 DJE)  

4. working with industry to publish regular transparency reports in relation to illegal and harmful online content including under the proposed Regulation on Preventing the Dissemination of Terrorist Content  (14.2 DCCAE/DJE)

The Action Plan provided that functional responsibility for the delivery of the Actions remains with the lead Department with responsibility for the relevant policy areas. The actions that fell within the remit of my Department were implemented.

The progression of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill was transferred by Government Order from the former Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to the New Department of Media, Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht and Sports for progression and progress continues to be made in the progression of this Bill.

The elements of online safety policy (including actions set out above) and that rested within DCCAE have all transferred to the new Department.  

The Department of Justice also has links with the delivery of actions 14.2 above and also for the delivery of action 13.2.

The Action Plan, and progress reports on its implementation covering the period July 2018-June 2019, are available at www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/be-safe-online/gov.ie.

The final progress report covering the six period July – December 2019 is also complete and is expected to be published in the coming weeks on gov.ie. 

An Online Safety Hub, a repository providing links to the online safety resources and information available across the six key Government Departments is available at www.gov.ie/besafeonline.

My Department continues to support schools, parents and young people on online safety measures while they also enjoy the benefits of using digital technologies in teaching and learning practices as provided for in the Digital Strategy for Schools.