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Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan)

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Snippet Contents:

Work is underway in my Department to address the recommendations relating to harmful communications online made in the Report on Cyber Security for Children and Young Adults published by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs in March 2018. 
Harmful communications, particularly online, can cause significant damage to victims. I am aware that there are growing concerns about how quick and easy it is to engage in online harassment, online stalking or to distribute intimate images of another person with the intent to cause harm. Our laws need to ensure that the individuals can use the internet free from harm while also ensuring that freedom of expressions is not unduly interfered with.    
As the Deputy will be aware, in December 2016, the Government approved the preparation of the general scheme of a Bill to address the criminal law elements of the LRC's report. Subsequently, Deputy Brendan Howlin published a Private Member’s Bill entitled the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 which completed second stage in the Dáil in January 2018 and was not opposed by Government. The main provisions of the Bill as published include extending the existing offence of sending threatening or indecent messages to apply to all threatening, false, indecent and obscene messages using any form of online or traditional method of communications. The Bill creates new offences to deal with the distribution of intimate images without consent. The Bill also proposes extending the existing offence of harassment as contained in section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997 to include all forms of communication, including through online or digital communications, and including communication about a person. This Bill will therefore deal with recommendations 15-18 of the Report on Cyber Security for Children and Young Adults.
Cabinet agreed in May this year to cease work on the Government Bill and to support Deputy Howlin's Bill to ensure that legislation can be enacted as soon as possible. Officials in my Department have met with Labour Party officials with the intention of identifying and bringing forward any necessary Government amendments to ensure the Bill can be as effective as possible. I am currently awaiting legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General in relation to these proposed amendments and I am committed to enacting this legislation at the earliest possible opportunity.