‘Get underage children off your apps’, Tánaiste warns social media giants

Government will force internet companies if they do not do so voluntarily, Micheál Martin tells Fianna Fáil ardfheis

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has issued a warning to social media giants to “get underage children off your apps” or the Government will force them to, in order to deal with the “new public health crisis of our time”.

In his keynote address to the Fianna Fáil ardfheis Mr Martin also joined international appeals to Iran to step back from an escalation of the war in the Middle East.

And he said that to address the impact of the global migration crisis Ireland needed to work with other European countries. The European Asylum and Migration Pact was an agreement to deliver a “firm but fair response to this profound challenge”.

Mr Martin also insisted that “our support for the people of Ukraine must be resolute” against Russia’s relentless war.


And he pledged that “we can and we will overcome” the biggest challenges facing the country, including building enough homes, providing for pensioners, protecting jobs, addressing the climate crisis and securing food production.

More than 1,500 of the party faithful were in place for Mr Martin’s speech at the Dublin Royal Convention Centre, including a number of ambassadors. Iranian ambassador Masoud Eslami was invited to the ardfheis but Israeli ambassador Dana Erlich was not.

The Tánaiste described as the “new public health crisis of our time, the impact on children of social media and being constantly online”.

Parents and schools struggle to know what to do, and the Government has sent clear guidance to schools, he said. Similar guidance would be available to parents.

He said a joint-initiative would be prepared by the Departments of Health and Education.

“Every school will be given funding to support the banning of smartphone use during school time,” he added.

“And to the social media companies our message is clear. Take concrete steps to get underage children off your apps or we will impose those steps on you.

“Online safety – getting children off their screens and back talking to each other – these are objectives we should all share.”

He added that free school books would be provided for all children up to Leaving Certificate level.

Mr Martin, who is Minister for Foreign Affairs, condemned “the brutal savagery of Hamas on October 7th” and called for them to “release all hostages and stop their activities, which have brought great misery to the Palestinian people”.

As he reiterated his plan to bring proposals to Government shortly on the recognition of the state of Palestine, he said Israel’s war in Gaza had caused an unjustifiable and shocking humanitarian catastrophe. “The evidence shows that war crimes have been committed and the bombardment of the population must be utterly condemned.”

Calling for a permanent ceasefire, the release of all hostage and a mass humanitarian relief effort, he expressed concern at the “very worrying developments in tensions between Iran and Israel.

“We join with others in appealing to Iran to step back from an escalation which threatens millions more people in the region with conflict,” he said.

On migration he said action was needed to reduce numbers and speed up procedures. “That’s why we support the European Asylum and Migration Pact – an agreement to deliver a firm but fair response to this profound challenge.”

And expressing Ireland’s “resolute” support for Ukraine, he said Russian president Vladimir Putin was “trying to crush the desire of a nation to have a free, peaceful, democratic and European future”.

Mr Martin insisted that a “deep and positive engagement with Europe and the world is absolutely fundamental for Ireland’s future”.

He also insisted that there are “real and growing differences between the parties”. In apparent reference to Sinn Féin he said “Fianna Fáil rejects the negative politics of those who claim Ireland has achieved nothing – those who oppose everything and offer empty promises.”

His party believed in supporting enterprise, supporting trade and trade agreements and using economic success to support good pensions and social supports.

“We believe in sustained action to build more homes and to make homes more affordable to buy and rent. We believe in helping to reduce costs faced by families.

On the Northern Ireland peace process he said vital projects were being funded including the A5 to the northwest, developing the University of Ulster and building the Narrow-Water Bridge.

“We are funding new research which is exploring both what unites us and where we differ on issues like taxation, health services and helping children to complete school.”

“I know we can achieve a lasting reconciliation and unity, and this will always be our commitment.”

As the party faces the local and European elections Mr Martin said they needed more MEPs like their two sitting MEPs Barry Andrews and Billy Kelleher, as the party runs six candidates in the June 7th election. And as Fianna Fáil attempts to hold on to its 279 local authority seats, Mr Martin said he wanted to thank the hundreds of candidates “for your commitment to public service – something our country needs as much as ever”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times