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 Header Item International Terrorism (Continued)
 Header Item Legislative Measures

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 868 No. 3

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Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald We take the opportunity to express our sympathy with to those impacted by the appalling terrorist activity in Europe in recent days, weeks and months. Considerable concern has been expressed at the meetings of the Justice and Home Affairs Council where this item is top of the agenda for discussion in terms of security across Europe. Hundreds of young Europeans have gone to fight and some have returned and are radicalised.

  These events show that all states must remain vigilant and attentive to the risks posed by international terrorism. Ireland, like any other democratic country with similar values, is not immune to a threat from international terrorism. While an attack on Ireland is possible, it is not assessed at present as likely and there is no specific information relating to threat to Ireland. An Garda Síochána is keeping the level of threat from international terrorism under continuous review in the light of the ongoing developments and is continuing to take all appropriate measures to counteract this threat. Of course, it has the full support of the Government in this regard.

  Approximately 30 people of Irish origin have travelled to these areas. We need to keep some perspective on this number. There has been some distortion in regard to the analysis of this number which includes individuals who travelled to Libya, Tunisia and other Arab states to take part in the popular uprisings known as the Arab Spring, which began in 2010. Some of these individuals have returned and approximately three have died in the conflict.

  There are a small number of people based here who support extremism and who would try to facilitate others to travel to conflict zones. Their activities are closely monitored by An Garda Síochána and there is very close co-operation with the security services in other jurisdictions.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Government is committed to ensuring the necessary legislation is in place to address terrorist threats. The Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2014 has already passed all Stages in the Seanad. The Bill, when enacted, will create the three new offences of public provocation to commit a terrorist offence, recruitment for terrorism and training for terrorism. These offences will carry sentences of up to ten years imprisonment on conviction on indictment. It is expected that the Bill will be brought before the Dáil shortly.

  Any response to this issue must be proportionate to the level of the threat and multifaceted in approach. Engagement with minority or at risk communities is essential. In that context, An Garda Síochána operates a progressive programme of community engagement with minority communities. The aim of these programmes is to build a sense of inclusiveness among minority communities and to address feelings of marginalisation to avoid providing fertile ground for radicalisation and those seeking to radicalise others.

  The radicalising affect of online propaganda must also be dealt with. Ireland, with its European counterparts, will also seek to work with all relevant stakeholders to develop further initiatives in this domain. From the perspective of domestic terrorism, the ongoing threat from paramilitary groups remains a matter of the highest concern for the Government. Garda actions to disrupt and prevent actions by paramilitary groups continue. The Garda will continue to use all lawful means at its disposal to bear down on the paramilitaries and will continue to work very closely with its counterparts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom to this end. This excellent relationship between the Garda and the PSNI is key to security co-operation and it has consistently been emphasised by the two police chiefs as essential and successful. This operational relationship is mirrored by ongoing contacts at ministerial and official level.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins Will the Minister comment on her statement that she could never rule out the possibility of an attack but that it is not likely at present because her colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, said Ireland must remain on alert? The European Commission has estimated that approximately 5,000 people have travelled from Europe to fight in the wars in Syria and Iraq. Up to 30 Irish citizens have travelled to the war zones and a number of them are under surveillance. There were reports that quite a senior person from that cohort, who lives in south county Dublin, was allegedly engaged in organising finance. Will the Minister provide us with an update on the oversight or monitoring of the threat posed to the State as a result of these people travelling to these war zones in view of the fact that up to 5,000 people from Europe have travelled to Syria and Iraq?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Let me repeat what I said because we want to be accurate in regard to this. Like any country with democratic values, Ireland is not immune to a threat from international terrorism. An attack on Ireland is possible, but it is not assessed as likely and there is no specific information on a threat to Ireland. However, as I have said and as all other Ministers at the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting agree, we all need to be vigilant and to share information. I ask our MEPs to support the law on passenger name records to ensure appropriate information is exchanged and that every possible security initiative needed is taken.

I will bring forward legislation in the next few weeks when Dáil time is available to deal with it. We will create three new offences of public provocation to commit a terrorist offence, of recruitment for terrorism and of training for terrorism. The Garda Commissioner, others and I have discussed this issue and we will keep it under review. The Garda Commissioner has the full support of the Government in this regard. I am satisfied this is an area of high priority for An Garda Síochána to ensure Irish people are safe.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Question No. 9 is in the name of Deputy Michelle Mulherin who is not present.

  Question No. 9 replied to with Written Answers.

Legislative Measures

 10. Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the way she will address defamation of persons which occurs online; her views on amending the law to allow for defamation cases online to be dealt with in a more-cost effective and timely manner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6990/15]

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins On many occasions, we have discussed the issue of cybercrime and cyberbullying in this House. It is an issue about which we all share a huge concern because of some of the consequences of it, in particular on the younger members of the community. However, there is also the issue of defamation online. We all know of instances where people believe they have been defamed online, of the difficulties they have experienced in trying to have that situation corrected and of the avenues available to them to seek justice if they believe they have been defamed or their character or good name has been taken. What are the Minister's plans to address defamation online?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald As the Deputy is aware, the law on defamation in the State was reformed in the Defamation Act 2009. It is important to say the Act draws no distinction between online, print or broadcast media and provides for a number of remedies. The primary relief under the Act is an award of damages with a jury deciding the amount to be awarded if the defamation action is successful. Either nominal or compensatory damages can be awarded. Given the nature of online defamation, the priority for the plaintiff might be to have the defamatory statement removed. Under section 33 of the 2009 Act, a plaintiff may seek a court order prohibiting the publication or further publication of a defamatory statement. Injunctions are an important remedy in responding to online defamation.

As the Deputy knows, the print media are regulated by the independent Press Council of Ireland which was granted recognition under the Act. The complaints system operated by the Press Council provides a useful, efficient and cost free remedy for members of the public who are affected in the way the Deputy described.

The e-commerce directive, Council Directive (EC) 2000/31, which comes within the remit of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, sets down a number of provisions regarding the duties and obligations of website providers, including to remove potentially defamatory material when notified. There is now evidence of a trend across Europe of courts imposing greater responsibility on online service providers for user-generated online content.

Recently, I held a meeting in Farmleigh House with all of the Internet service providers in this country to discuss their responsibilities, how we can work with them and what legislation is needed, if more is needed, to deal with the online issues which are increasingly a feature of our lives. These companies are taking a huge range of initiatives to ensure personal online safety and they are interrupting criminal material when posted online. We see this, in particular, in the area of child sexual abuse online which, sadly, is a growing feature of online activity.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins There are two dimensions to online defamation. There is the overt dimension where somebody who engages in online defamation is readily identifiable and then there is the covert dimension where somebody uses an alias and opens up an account with a bogus name and engages in online abuse and defamation. There are two dimensions to it which the Government needs to consider addressing in a radical manner because it is a source of huge concern. We know of the bullying of younger members of society. Ordinary decent people, who are entitled to their good name, often find themselves at an exceptional disadvantage. My Fianna Fáil colleague, Senator Thomas Byrne, had to go to the courts to get a court order to get Google to act in regard to something about him which was not true but which was available. That was not good enough. Does the Minister have plans to introduce legislation to deal with the overt and covert dimensions?

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