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1 in 4 girls here are involved in cyber-bullying

ONE in four Irish girls and one in six boys have been involved in cyber-bullying either as a victim, bully or both.

Shocking new figures reveal that bullying has moved from the schoolyard to the internet at a rate previously unknown.

The growing popularity of Facebook, Twitter and other social-networking sites is now posing a massive problem for teachers, parents and anti-bullying organisations.

Last week the Herald revealed the story of one 10-year-old boy who was terrorised by other children over the internet.

The abuse became so bad that the boy's home was also targeted and his parents eventually felt forced to change his school.

Recent research from the Growing Up In Ireland study highlighted how more than 24pc of nine to 17-year-olds have reported being bullied.

And now a study by the Anti-Bullying Centre at Trinity College has highlighted how one in four girls and one in six boys in Ireland have been involved in cyber-bullying either as a victim, bully or both.

The information has been relayed to the Department of Children, which is now supporting an anti-bullying forum due to take place in May.

"Bullying can have an absolutely terrible and corrosive impact on our children and young people, on their confidence, their self-esteem, their mental health," said Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

She said cyber-bullying posed a particular risk because parents "might be a bit slower to find out".

"It's abusive of young people and desperately damaging. We already have high suicide rates and it's the most vulnerable that will be hurt."

Minister Fitzgerald told the Herald that on a recent visit to London she witnessed how Scotland Yard "have a complete room of computers looking at what's happening online".

"Schools have to have procedures, they have to react to it and they have to interrupt it," she said.

"When the [bullying] coalition came in to see us they brought in a young woman whose bullying had not been interrupted by the school, where her complaints were not taken seriously and that day is gone."

The minister said she intends ensuring that responses to cyber-bullying will be further prioritised in the new Children & Young People's policy being prepared by her department.

Last Thursday, the Herald revealed the story of a 10-year-old who was terrorised online.

It was only after a pupil created a Facebook page entitled "Everybody Hates [name]" that the innocent schoolboy was identified as a victim of "extreme bullying".

His father Gerry Dalton said: "We weren't aware of the page because we don't allow our youngest son on Facebook."

kdoyle@herald.ie