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Higgins launches online abuse bill

16 April 2015

Labour Senator and barrister, Lorraine Higgins, today said that Oireachtas members have a duty to protect against harm caused online because by its nature it is ‘insidious, invasive, omnipresent and there is no escaping it’.

Senator Higgins was speaking at the launch of her new internet safety legislation this morning. The ‘Harmful and Malicious Electronic Communications Bill 2015’ aims to protect against and mitigate harm caused to individuals by all or any digital communications, and to provide such individuals with a means of redress for any such offending behaviours directed at them.

Senator Higgins said: “I carried out a survey in schools in County Galway last year with Derek Nolan TD and 85% of students felt cyberbullying is a major issue, while 80% believed not enough is being done about it. Coupled with my own experience, I am now acutely aware there is a gap in our legislative armour and I am keen to address this. Modern democracies require modern laws and why should Ireland be any different in terms of international best practice?

“It is wrong that commentary online would be held to a lesser or lower standard than the print or broadcast media. It is equally wrong that it is the victims of abuse and threats online who are penalised in that their mental health may be affected - but there are no penalties or deterrents for the instigators of the abuse. It is incumbent on us as legislators to make online platforms a safe and decent place for the people who use them, but particularly for children and vulnerable individuals. We need legislation of this sort because it is important to convey that one cannot be abused with impunity anywhere.

“I started with a blank canvass but have drafted what I believe will ultimately be a seminal piece of legislation covering our online activity. The Bill is a starting point and it's up to each and every member of the Houses of the Oireachtas to add, amend and delete as they see fit. I’m seeking Government to embrace the Bill and I am seeking for cross-party support for it because it’s too important an issue to play political football with it as it affects every household in the country.

“I'm delighted this issue is now in the political consciousness after a long time in the public consciousness, and I look forward to moving it before the Seanad soon. I would like to thank my Seanad colleagues, Senator Ivana Bacik and Senator John Whelan for supporting my endeavours and for signing the bill,” Senator Higgins concluded.