Ireland to have key role in enforcing EU laws to counter online child sex abuse

EU’s home affairs commissioner to visit Ireland for meetings with Google and Twitter

Ireland will have a key role in enforcing planned European Union laws to force tech companies to crack down on child sexual abuse images, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, has said.

The Swede visits Ireland on Tuesday for meetings with Google, Twitter and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee before appearing before the EU Affairs Committee in the Dáil.

There were almost 30 million reports of child abuse images globally in 2021. There are indications that a phenomenon estimated to affect one in five people is increasingly being recorded and digitally shared.

“With the online component now, more and more it means that these crimes, these rapes, are being sent and distributed to a lot of people. [The image] lives there more or less forever, re-victimising the children,” Ms Johansson said.


Online communities that share such content incentivise more abuse, by requiring new members to submit new images to gain entry.

“To enter into a community to look at child sexual abuse material, you have to produce new material... rape more children. And send it, film it, stream it live to others,” Ms Johansson said.

“Grooming is growing... people reach out to children to make them do things with themselves or their siblings, threatening them.”

Almost all reports of images come from just a handful of tech companies, as most firms do not report. But the planned new legislation would make reporting and removal obligatory, rather than voluntary.

“There will be a very important role for the Irish authorities to play here” as the contact point of the tech companies with their EU base in the country, Ms Johansson said.

Several member states have expressed interest in hosting a proposed EU centre to tackle the issue. Ireland “could be” a good candidate”, Ms Johansson said, but it was “too early to decide”.

The growth of end-to-end encrypted messaging services makes the detection of child abuse images particularly challenging. Ms Johansson is hoping for the development of technology that works like a spam filter to remove abuse content automatically without compromising the privacy of messages.

The legislation will aim to encourage “safety first” design, so that digital services are built to avoid being used to distribute child sex abuse images, rather than being launched first and fixed later.

“We should not make a safe space for these paedophiles and predators on the internet, and we need the internet companies to help us, to work with us,” Ms Johansson said. “We need legislation, and we need to make it mandatory.”

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times