Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter said he believes the current law can address cyber bullying, following an address in Dáil Eireann last week.
The issue brought up by Deputy Michael Mc Carthy was addressed by the Minister on November 7.
Minister Shatter expressed his heartfelt sympathy to the family of Ciara Pugsely and Erin Gallagher before saying “I am aware of the growing public concern, especially after a number of recent tragic cases.”
Shatter told the deputies that “Bullying is a form of harassment and, as such, falls within the provisions of the Non-fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997.
“Section 10 of the Act sets out the details of the offence and there is no doubt that bullying using technology, or cyber bullying as it is generally referredto, falls within the term harassment.
“I therefore believe the current law can be used to address the problem. However, I have been made aware of difficulties in bringing successful prosecutions under Section 10, especially around the need to demonstrate persistence in the harassment.
“I have asked the Law Reform Commission to examine this difficulty and I await their conclusions. I understand that the issue has already been examined elsewhere, including in Scotland and in Australia, and I hope that we can learn from other jurisdictions.”
Shatter urged victims of cyber bullying to report the issue tot he Gardai and asked parents and families to support victims.
“Of course, as a first requirement, parents and teachers must develop an awareness of bullying and must be especially aware of how mobile phones and other equipment and means of communication can be used to intimidate and harass young persons.
“The Safer Internet Programme which is administered by the Office of Internet Safety in my Department supports helplines for parents and teachers run by the ISPCC, National Parents Council (Primary), Technology in Education, formerly the National Centre for Technology in Education. Technology in Education also has a website for children. The Gardaí in their visits to schools under their Primary Schools Programme also highlight cyber bullying.
“The Safer Internet Day takes place in February each year. It is an international event with an agreed theme. The theme for 2013 is “Connect with Respect” and I expect the emphasis will be on using technology in a friendly, respectful way. All of us who are working with children and young people must encourage and promote that message at every opportunity.”
Shatter said he believes that the “law has a role to play and I hope we can increase the effectiveness of our current laws following the deliberations of the Law Reform Commission.”
He concluded that heightened public awareness of the problem can only contribute to a recognition that such behaviour is completely unacceptable, whether it occurs in schools, in the workplace or any other place.