“There is free speech and there are robust exchanges but threats to people’s lives have to be taken seriously, threats to rape have to be taken seriously, but as we’ve heard from discussions here, we need robust law in relation to online abuse and there is no question of that and it is developing and will develop in Ireland,” the Tánaiste said.
She was speaking at a Dublin City University (DCU) conference on violent online political extremism yesterday.
She said any legislation to deal with online abuse will be informed by a report currently being prepared by the Law Reform Commission (LRC).
“In relation to cyber crime, the Law Reform Commission is examining it at present and I would expect further laws arising as a result of their recommendations and we should have that report this year on cyber crime,” she told the Irish Examiner.
Ms Fitzgerald added that crime is crime, regardless of whether it happened in a virtual world or not.
“If there is crime, whether it’s on the internet, or whether it’s in ordinary daily life we do have to deal with crime and our laws have to be updated continually to deal with crime online,” she said.
However, Ms Fitzgerald pointed out that how people debate with one another has changed for the worse and that this needs to be addressed culturally, not necessarily through law.
“We saw it with the tragic death of Jo Cox, that awful situation. I do think there is a question of civility and appropriate standards and reasonableness that needs to come back into the kind of debates that we are having in political life.
“Legislation in relation to certain kinds of abuse is highly problematic, it’s more a question of tone and culture very often, but where there’s criminal activity you need law,” she stated.
A spokesperson from the Department of Justice told the Irish Examiner that the LRC’s report into cybercrime will inform any legislation in the area.
“The Law Reform Commission is currently carrying out a project on cyber crime affecting personal safety; privacy and reputation, including cyberbullying. It is hoped that the LRC report will be published in the coming months and its recommendations, including any proposals in relation to legislation, will then be considered,” said the spokesperson.
In relation to terrorist recruitment online, the minister said Irish people are not immune to it.
“We have a small number who’ve travelled, we’ve some people who died as foreign fighters. The reality is Irish people are not immune from being part of this challenge that the world faces of terrorist fighters,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“Clearly, we have less numbers than other countries, it’s at a very low number but we are certainly not immune from the issue of radicalisation,” she added.