250. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons that work in the Office for Internet Safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5531/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Office for Internet Safety (OIS) has two members of staff assigned to it. The Office coordinates the EU Safer Internet Programme for Ireland and channels EU funding to four partner bodies who in turn provide relevant internet safety services. The current EU funding runs from January 2017 to June 2019 and amounts to €770,850 (matched by equivalent funding from each body). The four partner bodies funded are:
Hotline.ie which is operated by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland;
PST – Professional Development Service for Teachers Technology in Education (a part of the Department of Education and Skills);
Childline which is operated by the ISPCC; and
the National Parents Council (Primary) which operates a helpline for parents.
In addition the OIS works closely with other Departments and agencies to promote internet safety, particularly in relation to combating child pornography. A dedicated website www.internetsafety.ie provides information primarily aimed at parents as well as links to a variety of other resources on internet safety. The unit also provides a series of information booklets on internet safety which are made available on the website and in hard copy.
The OIS has an oversight role in the operation of Hotline.ie. Hotline.ie is the confidential service for reporting illegal content in the internet in Ireland and it liaises closely with An Garda Síochána in carrying out its functions. In November 2014, An Garda Síochána launched an initiative on the blocking of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the internet in Ireland whereby they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a large internet service provider under which the company agreed to block access to CSAM as per a list supplied. An Garda Síochána continues to engage with other companies with a view to establishing further MOUs.
My Department also keeps the criminal law up to date in this area. In this regard, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 has put in place a number of measures to significantly strengthen existing criminal law in combating child exploitation - in particular to address the use of modern communication technologies as a tool which may lead to child exploitation. Heads of a Bill are currently being prepared to address specific criminal legislative recommendations in the Law Reform Commission's 2016 Report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety.
I recently met with my colleagues Minister Zappone and Minister Naughten in relation to online safety matters. It was agreed at that meeting that an Open Policy Debate on the issue of online safety should take place to engage stakeholders in the next stage of policy development.
Following on from that meeting the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment established a Steering Group which has met on two occasions to plan the proposed event. Officials from my Department, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Health, the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs are represented on the Steering Group. The key objective of the Open Policy Debate will be to raise awareness of cross-departmental actions already taking place to deal with harmful online content and to identify gaps in the Government’s approach and steps to address them. The emphasis in the Open Policy Debate will be on children and young people.