Tánaiste admits delay in new digital safety laws amid call to ban children from viewing porn online

Children under 18 years of age should be banned from viewing pornography online, says Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as the Government admits that new digital safety laws are still delayed.

Despite pressure mounting in the wake of the Ana Kriegel murder trial to overhaul internet safety laws, it was acknowledged today that new digital rules are still months away from completion.

The developments come after two 14-year-old boys were found guilty earlier this week of murdering schoolgirl Ana Kriegel. The trial heard that thousands of pornographic images, including violent ones, were found on the phone of Boy A by gardai.

Mr Varadkar, in Brussels, said children under 18 should not be able to access pornography online: "I think they shouldn’t, and if you go back into the past if it came to pornographic magazines and so on, it wasn’t possible to sell those to children.

"The internet has changed everything in that regard, so I think minors shouldn’t have access to pornography online - for adults, it is their own business - but with children it is different, we need to protect them.”

The Government this week said it will examine new laws in Britain that block children from accessing online pornography.

Talks with British counterparts will go ahead on how similar laws could apply here, confirmed Mr Varadkar: “So the UK is the first country now to implement this law, and as Brendan Howlin [the Labour leader] suggested yesterday, rather than just copying them- we should see how it works and talk to them and see if it has been effective and then be open to the possibility of following suit.

But we always need to ask the question, is it going to be effective? And could there be unintended consequences?

But he was cautious about calls yesterday from Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty in the Dáil for a cross-party committee to examine new laws: “To be honest we have an awful lot of committees in the Dail already - I’ve lost count of how many there are, it could be maybe 20 or 30 at this stage, and I know TDs and Senators are finding it hard to attend all the different committee meetings.

"I am not saying no to that but we just need to bear in mind that you have to have a limited number of committees, and there is already a committee that covers Communications and media issues.”

Delays in progressing new digital safety laws and protections online were debated in the Dáil, with Tánaiste Simon Coveney coming under pressure to reveal when they will be agreed.

Pressed by Mr Doherty as well as Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary, Mr Coveney reiterated that the days of self-regulation for companies are “over”.

He said parents are well aware of the dangers of mobile phones for children. But more time is needed to legislate for the Government's new internet safety laws, TDs were told. These laws will create the role of digital commissioner with powers and new regulations requiring sites to remove materials.

However, it could be the end of the year before they are ready, the Dáil heard. Mr Coveney added: “I do not think it is possible to put a comprehensive piece of legislation on online safety in place before the summer recess. However, it is possible to do that later on in the year.”

Additional reporting by Elaine Loughlin

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