PRESS RELEASE: Children’s Rights Alliance - If Ireland wants to be a leader in the movement to make the online world safer, now is the time to act

Published date: 
31 May 2022

If Ireland wants to be a leader in the movement to make the online world safer, now is the time to act - Children’s Rights Alliance

As part of its ongoing 1,2,3 Online Safety Campaign*, the Children’s Rights Alliance hosted a high-profile briefing and political panel discussion focused on children and young people’s safety and wellbeing online. The event was chaired by former Senator Jillian van Turnhout and heard from representatives from political parties; Deputy Peadar Tóibín (Aontú), Senator Malcolm Byrne (Fianna Fáil), Senator Micheál Carrigy (Fine Gael), Senator Pauline O’Reilly (Green Party), Deputy Ivana Bacik (Labour) and Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Sinn Féin).

Speaking on the event, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said, “Those paying attention to the digital space will know that we are on the cusp of a global movement to regulate big tech and online service providers. There is landmark legislation coming at European level, there is momentum building in the US and Australia and Fiji are even further ahead with well-established Online Safety Commissioners. In Ireland, we have waited for over a decade for the opportunity this Government has now – to ensure online platforms and big tech companies based here are responsible and held accountable for providing for the safety of those that engage with their services. Our primary concern is for children and young people who we know are online in greater numbers than ever before. These platforms have a responsibility to ensure safety by design.”

Speaking on the political panel, representatives from seven political parties outlined their priorities to ensure a safer online experience for children and young people.

On regulation…

Deputy Ivana Bacik (Labour Party) said:
“There has been so much statutory reform around sexual offences [and] offences against children in recent years and yet we are still waiting the full array of legislation needed to tackle safety online. What we are lacking [are] the civil law remedies and that is where the Online Safety Media Regulation Bill will provide such an important part of the package of measures necessary to ensure children are safe online.”

Senator Malcolm Byrne (Fianna Fáil) said:
“We need to look at the range of challenges. What we need is a culture change on the part of some of the social media platforms themselves. It does come back to the design of algorithms. We need to get in at a very early stage. We need to get companies thinking, are we going to put online safety as our first agenda?”

On education…

Senator Micheál Carrigy (Fine Gael) said:
“I think [online safety] needs to be part of the curriculum in our schools, that every child is informed. At the minute, it is very ad hoc.[...] Social and media companies have made substantial multi-billion euro profits, the least they can do, is put money forward for [online safety] through our education system.”

Deputy Peadar Tóibín (Aontú) said:
“ I believe it needs to be part of the curriculum. We need to be teaching about online safety. We need to teach about knowledge and behaviours, harms and risks and teach people how to navigate information they consume and how to stay safe online - and at the end of it wellbeing. Because at the end of it, when you add all these aspects up you have someone’s wellbeing, or not.”

On complaints…

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Sinn Féin) said:
“Online safety is perhaps the biggest children’s welfare issue of our day. It is enormous in its breath and its complexity and its potential impact. It’s something schools, parents and children are struggling to navigate as it’s constantly evolving and changing [and] we are way behind in terms of regulation. The need for the individual complaint mechanism is absolutely crucial.”

Senator Pauline O’Reilly (Green Party) said:
“If Minister Martin can legally and practically set up an individual complaints mechanism, that’s what she has committed to doing. As an obligation to our young people, we must take this legislation seriously. This is seen as a first step and there are a lot of countries looking at Ireland at the moment and the steps we’re taking.”

“Today, we had six representatives from different parties stating their full support for the inclusion of an individual complaint mechanism in the OSMR Bill,” continued Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance. As children’s advocates, we feel the absence of an individual complaints mechanism is the biggest weakness in the legislation as it stands and it simply will fail to take strides against the harms young people experience online without this necessary safeguard. We await the expert group’s report exploring the individual complaints mechanism and will continue to advocate for its inclusion as an essential safety measure when we know online harms are so prevalent. The cross-party endorsement of an individual complaints mechanism at today’s panel and indeed, the consensus in both the Media and Education Committees gives us hope that our legislators will fight for its inclusion with us.”

“We are a home to the headquarters of so many of these big tech and online services. We are primed to lead the way in best practices for safeguarding children and young people so they can use the rights they have in the digital world but if we are to meet this moment, the time to act is now. The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, the Digital Services Act, the next Children’s Strategy – all provide opportunities to bed down the blueprint of the kind of online world we want to see for our children. Many big tech companies and online platforms have been carefully constructed for commercial gain. If they can be designed to read our behaviour and our preferences, they can be re-designed to ensure a safer, more positive experience for their young audiences,” concluded Tanya Ward.



For further information contact:
Emma Archbold, Communications Lead, Children's Rights Alliance: / 087 9971410

Notes to editors:

• The recording of the event is available on the Children’s Rights Alliance Facebook page here
• The #123OnlineSafety national campaign is coordinated by the Children’s Rights Alliance and includes 18 supporting member organisations: Alcohol Action Ireland, Barretstown, Barnardos, BeLonG To, CyberSafeKids, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Foróige, Irish Heart Foundation, ISPCC, National Youth Council of Ireland, One in Four, Psychological Society of Ireland, Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Safe Ireland, Scouting Ireland,, Women’s Aid, Young Social Innovators. The campaign is kindly supported by The Community Foundation for Ireland via the RTÉ does Comic Relief Fund. #RTEComicRelief #123OnlineSafety

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