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Taoiseach says government will review UK's new 'porn block' law to see if it could work in Ireland

Leo Varadkar confirmed that legislation to set up the office of a Digital Safety Commissioner is on the way.

Leo Varadkar says he is wary of entering into the area of censorship about what people can and cannot watch online, but said a review of the UK's new law would be beneficial.
Leo Varadkar says he is wary of entering into the area of censorship about what people can and cannot watch online, but said a review of the UK's new law would be beneficial.
Image: RollingNews.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said the Irish government will consult with the UK about its new “porn block” and how it is working, with a view to perhaps rolling out an age verification system for Ireland.

During Leaders’ Questions, he confirmed that an online age verification system can be discussed by the Oireachtas Communications Committee, and confirmed that legislation to set up the office of a Digital Safety Commissioner is on the way.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin called for Ireland to follow in Britain’s footsteps in rolling out an age verification system to prevent children accessing pornography and torture videos online.

He said this is the duty of the Dáil after yesterday’s verdict in the Anna Kriegel case where the court was told one of the boys had thousands of pornographic images on his phone.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton has already said that “there is a valid concern there” in relation to the regulation of commercial adult porn sites.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has also said the Irish government will consider a similar system to the UK’s ‘porn block’ law as part of new legislation on online safety.

Under legislation passed in the UK in 2017, pornography sites will be expected, from 15 July of this year, to have a robust age-verification system in place to ensure UK users are over 18.

Although this will be regulated by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the sites themselves will be allowed to decide exactly how they do it.

Options being put forward in the UK include requiring adult users to buy a special card over the counter at a newsagents, where they will be asked to show photo ID to verify their age. The card will have a code on it that can be used to access the site.

Some sites will ask users to provide a scan of a passport or driver’s licence which will then be verified by a third-party while others may ask for credit card details as proof a person is over 18.

Age verification in Ireland 

TheJournal.ie previously reported that Ireland could be set to follow in the UK’s footsteps, and in a recent episode of The Explainer podcastTheJournal.ie took a look at this UK legislation and the likelihood of similar laws being rolled out here. 

Varadkar told the Dáil that he is “wary of moralising”, but suggested engagement with UK government a year or two after the law has been rolled out would be wise. He said that this engagement could help ascertain if the proposals could work here. 

He noted that the law is relatively new in the UK, and that he does not want to get into the realm of censorship. 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said today parents are contemplating “how best to protect their children”, adding that while “no one can protect them 100%, it is time the legislation caught up”.

He said this government has “dragged its feet on it”, pointing out that the Taoiseach was initially “reluctant” about establishing an office for a Digital Safety Commissioner. 

Martin called on the Taoiseach to “get going” on this issue, stating that it is “appalling what is going on”.

Digital Safety Commissioner

Varadkar said establishing a commissioner before legislation has been passed that would give them powers would not be wise, but added that the government is currently working at drafting legislation.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said everyone has known “for some time that access to vile and violent material including pornographic material on the world-wide web is deeply troubling and has real life consequences”. 

She added that the recent court case has crystallised attention on the issue.

The Taoiseach also spoke about the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill, originally put forward by the Labour Party in 2017, which recommends the outlawing of two kinds of incidents:

  • Non-consensual distribution of intimate images with intent to cause harm or distress (more commonly known as revenge pornography)
  • The taking and distribution of intimate images without consent, whether or not there is intent to cause harm or distress

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has agreed to put forward amendments to the Bill. 

McDonald said her party has also put forward legislation on the issue on online safety and told the Taoiseach today that no one should be “previous” about who moves the legislation, calling for the new laws to be brought in “quickly and expeditiously”.


Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

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