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Thursday 17 October 2019

Bruton ditches plan to restrict internet porn as 'not our top priority'

Richard Bruton said it was a 'technically difficult area'
Richard Bruton said it was a 'technically difficult area'

Communications Minister Richard Bruton has scrapped plans to introduce restrictions on access to porn in a new online safety bill, saying they are "not a priority".

The Government said in June it would consider following a UK plan to block pornographic material until an internet user proves they are over 18.

It was to be part of wide- ranging online safety legislation to be brought in before the end of the year.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said at the time that he did not believe minors should have access to pornography online.

He agreed that the UK law, which will require a user to verify their age through various methods, should be examined.

However, the British block has run into administrative problems and been delayed until later this year.

Mr Bruton said such a measure in Ireland is not a priority in the Online Safety Bill, a draft of which he said would be published before the end of the year.

"It's not the top priority. We want to do what we committed to do, we want to have the codes of practice," he said at the Fine Gael parliamentary party think-in. "We want to have the online commissioner - those are the priorities we are committed to.

"Obviously, as this evolves, if there are opportunities to deal with other issues that we can do safely within the bill, we will do it, but that's not our primary goal."

Mr Bruton said the legislation had been a "technically difficult area".

"You see looking at other countries, they have run into difficulties in designing legislation and having it be robust, so we had the consultation, we are now working with the Taoiseach and the Attorney General to get the elements of it in place," he said.

Enforce

"I am working to as fast a schedule as I can, but I am also very conscious that this is an area where we need to have our legislation robust. I am working to have the heads of bill by the end of the year."

Earlier this year, the Government committed to introducing an online safety bill that would introduce a safety code, outlaw cyberbullying and ban material that promotes self-harm, bulimia and anorexia.

An online safety commissioner will also be appointed, and will have the power to enforce the online safety code and may in some cases be able to force social media companies to remove or restrict access.

The commissioner will have responsibility for ensuring that large digital media companies play their part in ensuring the code is complied with. It will also be regularly reviewed and updated.

Mr Bruton's bill will allow for a more comprehensive complaint procedure for users and alert the commissioner to any alleged dereliction of duty.

The Government has been looking at Australia's pursuit of improved internet safety.

The UK porn-block law was due to be rolled out in July, but ran into difficulties after it emerged the government there had failed to tell EU regulators about key aspects.

One option for age verification would be buying an access card over the counter, where the shop owner will be required to verify the person's age in the same way as when selling alcohol and cigarettes.

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