I propose to take Questions Nos. 365 and 371 to 373, inclusive, together.
I am conscious of the issue referred to by the Deputy. The internet is an increasingly valuable resource for everyone, including children and young people, but it also exposes people to new risks including cyberbullying.
My Department does not have a role in relation to the coordination or investigation of complaints about bullying, including cyberbullying.
The welfare and protection of children and in particular, vulnerable children, is everybody's concern. Responsibility for children's welfare arises in all settings where children are and attaches to all responsible adults who come in contact with children. The primary responsibility for protecting children rests with their parents but parents are supported in this role by a range of service providers, state agencies, schools and professionals working with children and young people.
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 - Departments of 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 any one Department and signifying the range and breadth of the issues involved. A Sponsors Group, involving the six Departments and chaired by the Department of Education & Skills, has been established to drive implementation of the Action Plan.
There is a range of services available which can assist children and young people in coping with bullying situations for example;
- www.webwise.ie - An initiative of Department of Education & Skills - provides a range of internet safety issues and concerns and offers advice and support for young people, teachers and parents.
- With regard to cyber bullying, the Office for Internet Safety, under the Department of Justice & Equality, takes a lead responsibility for internet safety in Ireland, particularly as it relates to children.
The information and resources can be accessed through the single access point www.besafeonline.ie
The Children First Act 2015, which has been fully commenced since 11 December 2017, sets out a range of obligations for individuals and organisations in relation to child protection. It is predicated on the clear principle that child protection issues are the responsibility of all Government Departments in their respective sectors, and that they must be embedded in the policy considerations of all Departments.
The Children First Inter-Departmental Implementation Group (CFIDIG) is a statutory group set up under the Children First Act 2015. Its membership is drawn from all Departments, the HSE, An Garda Síochána and Tusla. Its role is in relation to promoting compliance with the Children First legislation and guidance. While the CFIDIG does not have a direct role with regard to online safety, it does provide a forum for discussion on matters related to child protection.
As part of the Action Plan for Online Safety, my Department 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 my Department's website in January. In addition, the Child and Family Agency - 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.
At a national and community level, youth organisations and voluntary youth services funded by my Department provide education programmes, run awareness campaigns about bullying and provide programmes for young people to give them the knowledge and skills to build supportive links and counter bullying behaviours. Specifically, my Department supports the National Youth Health Programme which is in partnership with the HSE and the National Youth Council of Ireland. The programme's aims are to provide a broad-based, flexible health promotion / education support and training service to youth organisations and to all those working with young people in out-of school settings, and includes programmes aimed at exploring bullying and cyber bullying with young people.