12 December 2014

Fitzgerald attends Global Summit to Tackle Online Child Sexual Exploitation

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, TD, together with Garda Commissioner Noreen O’Sullivan, attended the Global Summit to Tackle Online Child Sexual Exploitation, in London 10-11 December 2014.

The Summit, building on the work of the Global Alliance Against Child Abuse Online which Minister Fitzgerald attended recently in Washington, was hosted by the British Prime Minister David Cameron.

It brought together international governments, law enforcement agencies, industry and civil society organisations to agree concrete actions, and build strong partnerships in order to create an international network to collaborate together across borders.

During the Summit, the Minister highlighted a number of actions being taken by Ireland to enhance our contribution to this global effort including the recently published proposals to strengthen the criminal law in this area in particular with regard to the offence of grooming; action being taken by An Garda Síochána to improve capacity in the examination of child pornography cases; the development of the recently launched Garda blocking initiative and further engagement with the communication service providers based in Ireland.

The Minister also announced that she is establishing a new Forum, under the auspices of her Department, which will bring together law enforcement, technology and the ICT industry and child protection bodies to ensure maximum co-operation between stakeholders in the fight against online child sexual abuse. This Forum will meet twice yearly with the first meeting to be in the New Year. The Minister will be inviting leading experts from a range of companies including Facebook, Google, UPC, as well as An Garda Síochána and Túsla to participate.

See below for the Minister's speech:

"I would firstly like to express my gratitude to the British Prime Minister and his team for organising what is an exceptionally worthwhile summit.

Child sexual exploitation online is the most vile of cyber enabled crime. It offends our legal and moral codes. More fundamentally, it outrages the basic  human imperative: to protect and nurture our children.

No country remains untouched by this creeping horror. 

In times past, it was less easy to get hold of child abuse material.

It was less easy to find and groom children.

It was far less easy  to  communicate with other potential child abusers.

Modern communication has changed all that.

This is why we need now, more than ever, to ensure that we have the most robust of responses. 

During my time as Ireland’s first Minister for Children I oversaw a range of reform measures that put children, and in particular, the protection of children  at the heart of Government policy. 

As Minister for Justice I now have oversight of the criminal justice mechanisms needed to ensure we can protect our children. Bring perpetrators of child abuse to justice and support victims of that abuse. 

I can say that Ireland has already taken a number of significant steps.

Our national police service has the capacity and the technical infrastructure in place to share child sexual abuse material and hash sets with other law enforcement agencies where this is warranted and where it is required for investigative purposes.

A specialist unit within the police service is actively involved in contributing to Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation database. Since taking part in this initiative 34 child victims have been identified by this unit.

Over the course of our discussions, yesterday and today, it is abundantly clear that this is a crucial requirement for all our governments in tackling this borderless crime. Self evidently not one country can tackle this scourge on our societies on its own - it is only by sharing the information we all have with each other that we can begin to make the impact that we all want.

Ireland is committed to playing its part in the international effort to tackle this evil in a real and practical sense. In that respect a senior officer who is a specialist in tackling online sexual exploitation is on secondment to
Interpol’s HQ.

Ireland’s police force investigators are active participants in Interpol and Europol training and co-operation - regularly, and successfully,  contributing  to Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation database - but  also in the provision of training to international law enforcement personnel in the use and implementation of the database.

Ireland’s Hotline.ie, operated by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland, is receiving reports about suspected illegal online content and working to get it removed in collaboration with our INHOPE partners. 

Our Office for Internet Safety plays a key role in promoting internet safety issues.  Our Children First strategy is central to ensuring that child victims can avail of a range of appropriate supports.

Turning to future  work to be undertaken.

In common with other jurisdictions, our investigators are tracking significant increases in the volume of cases, in the violence of the abuse, and in the sophistication of the methods used to mask this evil activity.

Under the leadership of our new police Commissioner, Ireland is putting in place new structures and techniques to increase the rate at which we can examine and take action on the significant volume of identified cases.

 In recent weeks the Irish Police service – An Garda Siochana – launched a new blocking initiative in collaboration with an  internet service provider.

I recently appointed a new police commissioner, and she is determined to ensure that this initiative is just the first of many instances of tight and productive engagement  with  internet service provider companies.

Following the Summit I will be meeting with the communication service providers based in Ireland  to discuss the  issues raised at this Summit and how we might collaborate further. 

In particular, it is my intention to establish a new cross sector forum, to be hosted by my Department, which will bring together law enforcement, industry and child protection bodies to ensure maximum co-operation between all stakeholders in the fight against online child sexual abuse. The first meeting of this group will be in the New Year.

As highlighted by the UN Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography yesterday such cross sectoral partnerships are key to building on, and maximising, the work that is already being undertaken by the experts within their respective fields.

As part of a wide ranging package of measures  aimed at the reform of Ireland’s criminal law on sexual offences,  I have recently published proposals to overhaul Ireland’s criminal law particularly in the area of grooming online.

These new offences will greatly strengthen Ireland’s law to protect children from sexual exploitation. The new offences reflect the reality that predatory sexual activity to target children can now take place online, for example, via social media. These offences will attract heavy sentences reflecting the seriousness of these crimes and reaffirm our societal determination to punish those who exploit innocent children.

The proposals in this new Bill will facilitate Ireland’s full compliance with relevant international standards on the criminal law in this area.

Let me make it very clear.
Ireland is more than a contributor to the overall global effort.
Ireland should be more than a contributor.

For two reasons.

First, our constitution – the document on which our nationhood is based – commits us to “cherish all the children” in our country. Those who wrote our constitution could never have envisaged what delivering on that promise would mean in the twenty first century.

The second reason is that Ireland is rich in high tech graduates – we have an asset currently underutilised in the fight to protect our children from the high-tech destruction of their childhood. I plan to involve more of our electronics engineering graduates in this battle.
I can assure you that Ireland remains committed to playing its part in ensuring that the international community rises to the challenge."