Coalition not to oppose Bill seeking to remove ‘child pornography’ term from legislation

Minister warns there are ‘significant legal and technical issues that do need to be addressed’

The Government has said it will not oppose a Bill that seeks to change the term “child pornography” to “child sexual exploitation material” in legislation.

However, there are "significant legal and technical issues that do need to be addressed", Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne has said.

The Child Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation Material (Amendment) Bill 2022 was brought forward in the Seanad on Thursday by Independent Senator Eileen Flynn who said the term "child pornography" is out of date, completely incorrect and "does not truly reflect the nature of the abuse".

Ms Flynn said it was unacceptable to continue to use “such inappropriate language” when referencing “such an awful crime”.

The term had always made her feel uneasy but since becoming a mother she had realised “how disgusting and inappropriate this phrase is”, she said.

Ms Flynn said while pornography was not a problematic word, it was used in the wrong context and there could be no room for misunderstanding in legislation.

“What we’re talking about here is not pornography, it’s exploitation, it’s abuse and it must change and today we have the power in this House to lead by example and change our language in our legislation,” she said.

Mr Browne said he fully agreed with the Senator that the language used was “problematic at a very minimum” and it should be, and needed to be, changed. He said images of child sexual abuse were not pornography, but instead “images of appalling crimes against vulnerable children”.

However, the Fianna Fáil TD said as appealing as it may be to propose the straightforward replacement of the offending words with more appropriate terms, "it is unfortunately not as simple".

Mr Browne said while he knew it was not Ms Flynn’s aim to alter the nature of the offences she proposes amending, the act of changing the words “does alter the offence”.

“In altering the offence a risk is created to prosecutions that are already under way and to future prosecutions that may be brought for offences committed before the changing of the wording,” he said.

‘Great care’ needed

Mr Browne said “great care” is needed in making changes to such offences so that no serious unintended consequences arise.

He said Government would not oppose the Bill at the second stage of reading and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee “looks forward” to working with the Senator on the Bill.

Labour Senator Mark Wall said the "dreadful and awful crime" of child exploitation needed to be called out "for exactly what it is".

“This is exploitation and it should be described as such, simply as that. Referring to it as child pornography implies a level of consent that does not and can never exist,” he said.

Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney said it was important that the State evolves its legislation as quickly as possible "to ensure that we are up to date in our concepts and ensuring that we are capturing all that is happening to children".

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times