Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Ceisteanna (37)

Jim O'Callaghan


37. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to ratify the Budapest convention and the Lanzarote convention; the timeline for the ratification of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4179/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

Ireland signed the Budapest convention on cybercrime in 2001 and the Lanzarote convention, which deals with the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, in 2007. When will the Minister ratify them?

The Deputy will recall that I recently outlined the position on the ratification of these two important Council of Europe conventions when he raised the matter on 16 January. At that time, I updated the House on the significant progress made in the ratification process within the term of this administration, particularly through the introduction of legislation to give effect to the key criminal law provisions in both treaties.

On the cybercrime convention, otherwise known as the Budapest convention, the majority of the provisions in the convention are already provided for in Irish law. The most significant step towards ratification of the convention was the enactment in 2017 of the first Bill in this jurisdiction specifically dedicated to dealing with cybercrime. The Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Act 2017 gave effect to an EU directive on attacks against information systems, the main provisions of which reflect the key provisions in the convention.

This recent legislation, therefore, also gives effect to provisions in the convention relating to offences against information systems and their data, as well as search and seizure powers in respect of such data. An Garda Síochána, the organisation with primary responsibility for dealing with cybercrime, has strongly welcomed this landmark legislation as a comprehensive weapon to tackle criminality against computer systems, as well as interference with such systems or their data.

Turning to the convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, also known as the Lanzarote convention, the work required for ratification is at an advanced stage. I understand from our previous debate on this matter that the Deputy’s primary concern is with the elements of the convention which deal with the criminalisation of online abuse and exploitation of children. Ireland’s laws are fully in line with the convention in this regard. This was largely achieved by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, which is ground-breaking legislation. On other elements of the convention, my Department has carried out a detailed review of compliance, in consultation with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and other relevant stakeholders, such as the Garda Síochána and the HSE.

The online sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children is one of the most serious issues that any country can face. I am sure the Minister will appreciate that we cannot deal with on our own. It is an international problem and needs to be dealt with through international co-operation. That was the reason why the Council of Europe came up with these two conventions. The Budapest convention, dealing with cybercrime, was signed by Ireland in 2001 and the Lanzarote convention, which deals with the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, was signed in 2007. I acknowledge that steps have been taken by the Oireachtas and the Government to put in place legislation, which will achieve the requirements of part of those conventions. However, they still have not been ratified. It should not come as a surprise to the Minister because I have raised it with him previously, and Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the child rapporteur, mentioned in his annual report as far back as 2014 that these conventions had not been ratified. I still have not received an answer as to when they will be ratified.

I would like to be in a position to report progress on both of these conventions. I acknowledge there has been a delay in bringing matters towards a finality. However, much progress has been made in the context of legislation that has been enacted in recent times such as the Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Act 2017 and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017. Other aspects of the Lanzarote convention do not require fresh legislation but action needs to be taken at operational level.

I agree with the Deputy that child sexual exploitation is an issue which can only be tackled by means of a cross-agency approach. I am engaged with a broad range of stakeholders, including the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the HSE, Tusla and An Garda Síochána. I am keen that matters will be advanced during the year. I am happy to keep the House fully informed of developments to ensure we formally ratify both of these important Council of Europe conventions.

I hope I am not being unfair but based on what the Minister said, I take it that it is hoped that the Government will ratify these conventions this year. If that is so, it is to be welcomed, notwithstanding the fact that they should have been ratified a long time ago.

We must recognise that international attention in this regard will focus on Ireland in due course. We have managed to get away with the fact that the State has not ratified these conventions. Ireland is a centre for a significant number of digital and Internet companies. We need to be conscious that we have to have in place top of the range regulation and legislation to deal with the serious issue of sexual exploitation and abuse of children online. Internet companies are incapable of doing it to the fullest extent.

Even if they were, as legislators we must ensure that the appropriate laws are in place.

While I welcome what the Minister said about it looking as though they will be ratified this year, there has been a long delay and I will hold him to the commitment that it will be done this year.

I do not wish to offer reasons or excuses to the House about the timescale involved, but I acknowledge there has not been the type of progress which many of us desired. Some of the delay arose from developments at EU level such as the 2005 EU framework decision on a tax on information systems, which was in the process of being implemented through well-advanced draft national legislation until 2010, before being replaced by an updated directive in 2013. The Deputy will appreciate that there are legislative priorities, which change over time due to competing issues in the justice and equality sector. Given that the issue has been raised again, I am keen to keep the House fully informed and, in particular, the Deputy, having regard to his interest in it.