As the Deputy will appreciate, the spread of Covid-19 is unprecedented in almost every aspect for every sector, both private and public, and this includes communications.
A key objective of Government throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been to be able to provide regular updates in uncertain times to the public.
As part of my Department’s initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic, my officials implemented social media listening as part of their communications duties, to ensure that the Department could react effectively to issues as they arose in relation to services being provided across the Justice Sector.
To do this my officials followed “hashtags” and keywords that related to An Garda Síochána, prisons, family law, domestic violence, stillhere.ie, family courts, immigration, asylum and, as noted by the Deputy, direct provision. This work meant the Department was in a position to respond earlier to issues that were arising online, when most of its workforce was working remotely.
It also enabled my Department to respond to, or investigate issues, that were being raised on social media platforms that were not being raised directly with the Department, its service providers, or through the various helplines or supports put in place for various agencies. Understanding the conversations that were happening online also assisted my Department in responding to queries raised by national and regional journalists on behalf of the public. This initial response to the pandemic is not now required and has been discontinued.
The Deputy may also wish to note that my Department has not engaged any external bodies or companies as part of the social media evaluation reports being prepared.