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New laws criminalising the distribution of intimate images without consent approved by Oireachtas

It comes after a sustained campaign from Jackie Fox, whose daughter Nicola died by suicide following a period of prolonged abuse online.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the new laws
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the new laws
Image: Sam Boal

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Helen McEntee has welcomed both Houses of the Oireachtas passing new legislation criminalising the distribution of intimate images without consent. 

The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 covers a wide range of offences, including online abuse, cyberbullying, and image-based abuse.

It has come to be referred to as Coco’s Law after Nicole ‘Coco’ Fox Fenlon, who took her own life in 2018 after a period of prolonged abuse online.

It will provide for two new offences dealing with the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. 

The first offence will deal with the taking, distribution, publication or threat to distribute intimate images without consent, and with intent to cause harm to the victim. It will carry a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or 7 years’ imprisonment.

The second offence deals with the taking, distribution or publication of intimate images without consent without a requirement that the person intended to cause harm to the victim. It will carry an offence of a maximum penalty of a €5,000 fine and/or 12 months’ imprisonment.

Minister McEntee said: “The importance of ensuring that abuse in all forms and using any medium can be tackled cannot be under-estimated. The taking or sharing of intimate images without consent is abuse and will not be tolerated.

This new legislation will give An Garda Síochána the tools they need to make sure that those who commit this abusive crime can be prosecuted and, if prosecuted, our Courts will have sentences available that reflect the level of harm these crimes cause to their victims.

Existing laws will also be updated in the area of harassment, broadening the scope of the offence of harassment to cover all forms of persistent communications about a person. The most serious forms of harassment will now be punishable with seven to ten years in prison. 

The bill had cross party support and made its way quickly through the Oireachtas in recent weeks.

The minister added: “I especially want to remember Nicole Fox and to acknowledge the selfless efforts of her mother Jackie. Jackie has tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness about the harmful effects of online abuse and to make our laws stronger in this area.

Nicole and Jackie are one of the main reasons that I was determined to deliver on my promise that the Bill would pass through the Dáil and Seanad before Christmas. Nicole’s memory and Jackie’s campaign to honour her are recognised in the explanatory memorandum accompanying the legislation.

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Labour’s Brendan Howlin, who first introduced the bill in 2017, said he was happy to see this legislation passed and that it will “make the internet a safer place”. 

“Today I am thinking most of the parents and family members who worked with me to ensure this became law, in honour of lost daughters, sons and family members, and all those who have been damaged by online abuse.

“We all know the often-tragic consequences of online harassment and image based sexual abuse and the passage into law of this important Bill will ensure that the perpetrators of this vile abuse will be brought to justice.

I first introduced this Bill in 2017 on foot of a campaign from Jackie Fox following the tragic death of her daughter Nicole because of a persistent campaign of online harassment. I would like to pay tribute to Jackie for her advocacy and tenacity in ensuring that this Bill was kept on the political agenda. I am very proud that the Bill will be called ‘Coco’s Law.

“In September of this year, I accepted a petition with over 33,000 signatures calling for this law to be passed and heard the moving testimony from parents who have lost children to online harassment. I want to pay tribute to them for their advocacy in the most tragic of circumstances. I also want to thank the Minister for Justice, and members of both Houses for working with me in recent weeks to finally get this much needed bill passed into law.”

Need help? Support is available:

  • Aware – 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Samaritans – 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
  • Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland – 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18)
  • Childline – 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

About the author:

Sean Murray

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