Schools would be legally obliged to adopt and follow strict policies on bullying under a bill published by Sinn Féin.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is due to announce a major plan on tackling bullying in the next few weeks, to be backed by a €500,000 budget for next year.
However, Jonathan O’Brien, Sinn Féin’s education spokesman, says his bill would greatly strengthen existing laws and help schools better deal with the problem of bullying.
His proposal would make it mandatory for schools to implement anti-bullying policies, which are not legally required under 1993 Department of Education guidelines on the issue.
“Bullying is a complex and difficult problem that can manifest itself in many different ways and inflict long lasting scars on its victims,” said Mr O’Brien.
“At its worst, the physical and psychological damage to an individual can, as we have sadly seen in recent months, be a significant factor that leads to self-harm or death by suicide.
“We can no longer therefore, pay lip service to what is happening and we need to strengthen the laws so schools are better equipped to deal with this issue.”
The draft legislation sets out that bullying behaviour means repeated, intentional aggression, and includes electronic forms of contact as well as verbal, psychological, or physical format, which would encompass cyberbullying as well as the use of social media.
Under the bill, discriminatory behaviour connected to the nine grounds covered by equality legislation would be defined as bullying, but discrimination related to perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, or membership of an alternative sub-culture, would also be included.
The proposed amendment to the 2000 Education Welfare Act has already been published in the Dáil, but is not likely to be debated until early next year, during private members’ time allocated to Sin Féin.
An explanatory note says it provides procedures that a school should follow if it receives a complaint or if a staff member becomes aware of a student or anyone else in the school being bullied.
The idea is also to give parents the security of knowing what measures a school board must take when dealing with bullying complaints, and to ensure regular and accurate communication between schools and parents about a case.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved