The appropriate age for when children should be allowed free access to social media sites is expected to be discussed at a public meeting in Leitrim next month.
The issue came up this week at a Joint Policing Committee meeting where concerns were raised by Councillors following the national coverage of a recent court case where a man was able to contact children as young as nine online.
Independent Cllr. Enda Stenson asked if Gardai have enough resources to tackle the issue of exploitation of young children online.
This week, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was criticised for setting the age of digital consent at just 13.
He says the age chosen was following consultation with children’s charities and the Children’s Ombudsman.
The digital age of consent is the age at which data controllers can hold information on children and teenager. Under that age the consent of parents has to be sought.
Cllr Stenson said at this week’s meeting that the issue is something that parents and people his own age often can’t grasp because of the advances in technology.
Superintendent Kevin English said it’s a ‘broad question’ and Gardai are not resourced to police the internet but he said that education in schools and educating parents is key to tackling the issue.
He confirmed that they have had successful investigations into child exploitation in this region. He said all the JPC can do is recommend to government the age children should be allowed access to the internet and especially social media sites unsupervised.
Sinn Fein Cllr. Padraig Fallon pointed out that it could be a waste of time setting an age as when children go online they often put in a false age to gain access to sites or social media accounts.
However, Fine Gael Cllr John McCartin said that’s not the point, he said we at least have to set a standard:
The Leitrim Joint Policing Committee agreed to hold off on making a recommendation to government until after a public meeting which is to be held on the first of March.
They hope to get the public’s views in Leitrim on what age they feel should be set.
A location for the public meeting has not yet been confirmed but it is provisionally set for the 1st of March possibly in Drumshanbo or Manorhamilton.
Chairperson of the JPC in Leitrim Sinead Guckian says they hope to have Comhairle na nÓg members present as well to discuss the ‘Use Your Brain Not Your Fists’ campaign in conjunction with An Garda Siochana.
That is set up with the support of people like Rosie Dolan whose son Andrew was killed following a drunken fight in Mullingar in 2011.
But Councillor Guckian says they hope to use the opportunity to get the opinion of young people on a range of issues including the online culture.
Ocean FM News will publish the location of the meeting when it’s confirmed in the coming days.