I propose to take Questions Nos. 758 to 760, inclusive, together.
I am aware of reports of the incident referred to by the Deputy which I understand is currently under investigation by An Garda Síochána. As such I'm sure the Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment further on this matter.
I fully support the Programme for Government commitment to enacting legislation in this area and the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill (as amended) is being progressed as a priority. The Bill is scheduled for Committee Stage in the Dáil on 1 December 2020.
Today, I secured Cabinet approval to bring forward amendments to the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill to provide for two new offences to deal with the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.
The first offence will deal with the taking, distribution, publication or threat to distribute intimate images without consent, and with intent to cause harm to the victim. It is intended to carry a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or 7 years’ imprisonment.
The second offence will deal with the taking, distribution or publication of intimate images without consent without a requirement that the person intended to cause harm to the victim. It is intended that this offence will carry a maximum penalty of a €5,000 fine and/or 12 months’ imprisonment.
The amendments proposed also provide that it will be irrelevant that a person may have consented to the taking of an image if it is subsequently published or distributed without their consent. It will be an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing if the perpetrator of the offence is or was in an intimate relationship with the victim of the offence.
Further amendments approved by Cabinet will update harassment legislation to broaden the scope of the offence of harassment to cover all forms of persistent communications about a person, not just indecent images, and to increase the penalty from seven to ten years to reflect the harm that can be caused by most serious forms of harassment.
Harassment and abuse in any form, whether online or otherwise, is utterly unacceptable and has no place in Irish society. I am, along with my Government colleagues, fully committed to tackling abusive behaviour in all forms. The standards of what is unacceptable in an online setting must be consistent with those in traditional settings, and cross government initiatives are underway to address this.
Progression of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill is a priority action for me as Minister for Justice and I am committed to seeing it enacted as quickly as possible. I would like to acknowledge the cooperation of Deputy Brendan Howlin in advancing the amendments approved today and I very much welcome the support expressed by all for this legislation. I look forward to progressing through the legislative process as soon as possible.