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Irish government cyberbullying bills rejected at NUJ event

Therese Caherty addresses the meeting in Liberty Hall

Therese Caherty addresses the meeting in Liberty Hall  -  © Gerard Cunningham

11 September 2015

Two bills on cyberbullying currently going through the Dáil were dissected and rejected at an NUJ event on the issue held in Dublin at the weekend.

Ridicule, Abuse and Trolling – How to handle online harassment, attracted a strong audience and generated plenty of comment, on the airwaves as well as in the venue, Dublin's Liberty Hall. The event was organised by Therese Caherty, recruitment officer Dublin freelance branch and a member of the NUJ's equality council.

Dr Eoin O'Dell, professor of law at TCD, told attending journalists that legislation as it stands can be used in most cases. The point was reiterated in the afternoon session by barrister Fergal Crehan.

Eoin O'Dell, who delivered the keynote – A Question of Balance: Free Speech and Online Abuse – trawled through existing legislation to highlight serious flaws in the bills drawn up by Labour Party Senator Lorraine Higgins and outgoing Deputy Pat Rabbitte.

In particular, he highlighted an element in the Higgins bill that could allow courts to take action without a crime being committed. This, he contended, was "bizarre" and "dangerous".

As they stood, he said, the bills were unconstitutional and wouldn't make it to the statute books. More on his analysis can be found at cearta.ie

The follow-up panel discussion, chaired by Gerard Cunningham of Dublin freelance branch, offered advice and perspective on various aspects of cyberbullying. This ranged from the importance of distinguishing between feedback and trolling from Sinead O'Carroll, news editor, TheJournal.ie to tech tools/manuals to keep us safe online by Karlin Lillington, resident Irish Times tech reporter.

The sesssion also covered rights, responsibilities and legal solutions around online harassment with barrister Fergal Crehan. Social media trainer Fiona Kenny examined of cyberbullying as it affects women, advising how to deal with rape threats and how to take down trolls effectively.

In his opening address, Gerry Curran, IEC Cathaoirleach, set the tone for the discussion, advising journalists of their responsibility to use common sense in differentiating between bullying and fair comment. This was a theme throughout the event, with almost all panellists urging colleagues to recognise the value of a sense of humour, to know when to hit the mute button and to recognise that standing back was often the best way to deal with harassment. It isn't always necessary to join in the fray.

At last year's NUJ Delegate Meeting, Motion 28 urged the union to keep members informed of and up to date on matters relating to online abuse, particularly women members who experience a more sexually explicit and violent form of harassment.

Ridicule, Abuse and Trolling – How to handle online harassment was a response to that motion. An NUJ briefing on this form of harassment and how to deal with it is also available.

Tags: , dublin, cyberbullying, government ireland, parliament ireland, women, harassment, iec, social media, websites, thejournal.ie, dublin freelance branch, irish times, dm2014