TD proposes fining parents who fail to control kids’ internet use

Proposed legislation would also fine retailers for selling phones to children aged under 14

Fine Gael TD Jim Daly: proposed legislation “will force parents to take responsibility for their children’s access to internet”. Photograph: Eric Luke

Fine Gael TD Jim Daly: proposed legislation “will force parents to take responsibility for their children’s access to internet”. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Parents should be fined for allowing their children to own mobile phones with unrestricted access to the internet, a Fine Gael TD has suggested.

Jim Daly, who is chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, is currently drafting legislation on the issue and says it could also see retailers facing fines if they sell such devices to children under the age of 14.

He said the proposed legislation was just weeks away from completion and could be debated in the Dáil before the summer break.

The idea for the legislation came about after the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was before the committee and identified cyber safety as “the single greatest threat to children in our time”, he said.

“The proposed regulation will also force parents to take responsibility for their children’s access to internet,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“It’s not about unsupervised access, we do need to regulate. Essentially you are allowing a child of seven or eight years of age to have a mobile device that allows them to access unlimited pornography of every type, they can go gambling, cyber bullying.

“We protect our children from things like sunbeds by law, just like alcohol, tobacco.”

No regulation

Mr Daly said that despite the inherent dangers of the internet, there is no regulation whatsoever of what children can watch on the internet.

“When the smoking ban was proposed people said it was unenforceable. Many laws are very difficult to police. There is a law against slapping children, I could be at home slapping my children all day, nobody is going to know about it.

“You don’t send the police in to police it, it is about setting a standard. It’s about setting an ideal, it is about creating awareness.

“This is an objective by us as a society to protect our children by regulation. We ban so many things like alcohol, pornography and gambling, yet we give them a device with unlimited access to them.

“I received a message from a parent who said their child was watching a beheading by Isis.”

Mr Daly rejected a suggestion that his proposal was “politics by press release”.

“Ultimately the aim of this is to force manufacturers to come to the table and actually start producing something they should have done decades ago, producing devices that are safe for children. Manufacturers are not making the efforts they need to. We can’t force international companies to do so.

“As a legislator the only tool available to me is to introduce legislation. I really resent the accusation of politics of press release, that I’m doing this for some sort of political gain.”

‘Cautious welcome’

The ISPCC’s director of policy and communications has given a cautious welcome to the proposal.

Cliodhna O’Neill said that while she was pleased that a discussion on internet safety for children was taking place, the ISPCC would like to see “a complete suite of measures” to deal with the issue of cyber bullying.

“It is the child protection issue of our time,” she told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

The ISPCC is seeking a national cyber strategy including education, law reform and increased regulations, she said.

She said that parents had contacted the ISPCC to say that they had been unaware that their children were in contact with strangers when they were playing games online.

“We need to educate parents so they are aware of what is happening.”

She agreed that unsupervised access to the internet was not a good thing, but added that children needed privacy to access some services such as the ISPCC’s Childline, which was accessed by 19,000 children last year.