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Minister Helen McEntee (file photo)

McEntee wants image-based abuse to be illegal by the end of the year

People could face up to seven years in prison if they publish intimate images without consent.

THE DISTRIBUTION OR publication of intimate images without consent and with intent to cause harm is due to carry a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or seven years imprisonment under proposals approved by Cabinet today.

The taking, distribution or publication of intimate images without consent, and without a requirement that the person intended to cause harm to the victim shall will carry a maximum penalty of a €5,000 fine and/or a 12 months jail sentence.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee today said she hopes the legislation will be passed by the end of the year.

When the practice is illegal, it puts an obligation on online platforms to remove such content, McEntee said, adding that there has been “a grey area” around that to date.

The move comes a few days after the gardaí confirmed they are investigating the alleged uploading of images and videos of Irish women and girls, without their consent, to a number of online forums.

The Victims Alliance, an advocacy group, said tens of thousands of images have been shared on various online platforms. The group is working to identify the victims but said some of them are Irish.

Some of the images and videos in question were taken by the victims and privately shared but were later publicly shared without their consent or knowledge, the Victims Alliance said.

Many of the images were taken from online platforms such as OnlyFans, Tinder, WhatsApp and Instagram.

It is understood the fact that the person may have consented to the taking of an image will be irrelevant if it is subsequently published or distributed without their consent.

The Bill does not specify the types of technology that may be used to commit the offences, and is intentionally neutral to cover all forms of online and offline communications that cause harm to a victim.

It will also be an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing if the perpetrator of the offence is or was in an intimate relationship with the victim of the offence.

The new measures will be contained in amendments to the Harassment, Harmful Communications and other Related Offences Bill.

The legislation was first proposed by Labour in May 2017, but it was not passed prior to the dissolution of the last government.

Speaking to today, Labour’s Brendan Howlin said he has for years tried to get the government see the issue as a priority.

Asked why he felt it fell on deaf ears under the last Dáil, he said: “They just never embraced it as a priority, that’s it.”

When McEntee took office, Howlin said he sought a meeting with her, and told her that his party’s Bill needed to be progressed. She agreed, said the Wexford TD.

“The day has come, but is has been a long time coming,” he said.

He said the legislation around dealing with harrassment of this kind has not been updated for decades, stating that the current legislation mentions technology should has telephones and texting.

Howlin said it is a “hidden harm going on online”, but that “events over the last week has jolted the realisation” that it needs to be dealt with urgently.

He pointed out that when the UK brought in similar legislation, the Crown Prosecution saw around 200 prosecutions per year.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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