Louth County Council unanimously passed a motion on Monday calling on the government to pass legislation to clamp down on online bullying and harassment – with Independent councillor for Louth Declan Power urging the local authority to “lead from the front, rather than follow from the back.”
Cllr Power tabled a motion at the July meeting asking for the local authority to write to government with the purpose of conveying the important of the proposed Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill, known to some as ‘Coco’s Law’.
This new law would aim to clamp down on online bullying and harassment and is known as ‘Coco’s Law’ after a young woman called Nicole ‘Coco’ Fox. She took her own life, aged just 21, following constant online bullying and abuse.
“I have got to know Coco’s mother Jackie Fox in recent months and hope to have her in Drogheda soon to tell her story,” Cllr Power said in a statement on Tuesday.
“She has done phenomenal work in constantly lobbying and campaigning for this law to be amended following the premature death by suicide of her daughter and realizing that her daughter’s perpetrators could not be criminally charged following two years of online abuse, bullying and harassment,” he told the meeting
The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 seeks to modernise existing harassment laws to cover modern technology and social media and comes on the back of recommendations in the Law Reform Commission’s report on Harmful Communications and Digital Strategy.
This bill, sponsored by former Labour leader Brendan Howlin, came before the Dáil and Seanad in January of this year but has since lapsed.
The bill states that that a ‘person who, intentionally or recklessly and without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, persistently follows, watches, pesters or besets another person, or persistently communicates with another person, or persistently communicates with a third person about another person, is guilty of harassment where those acts seriously interfere with the peace and privacy of the other person or cause alarm, distress or harm to the other person.’
It also defines communication as including information that ‘is generated, processed, transmitted, received, recorded, stored or displayed by electronic means or in electronic form.’
Nicole ‘Coco’ Fox, from Clondalkin in Dublin, took her own life after suffering a campaign of online bullying. Her mother, Jackie Fox, has been campaigning for more stringent laws ever since.
“We are now living in a very different communications climate, and Ireland’s harassment laws don’t reflect this compared to the UK for example,” Cllr Power said when putting his motion to councillors and officials.
“This bill seeks to protect against online harassment by covering against the persistent communication about someone, as well as directly to that person, which is often the case when it comes to cyber-bullying. Importantly, this Bill makes it clear that it is not to be interpreted as altering the law so as to prohibit or unduly restrict the exercise of the rights of peaceable assembly or peaceful picketing, or any other constitutional right.
“Free speech should remain just that,” he continued. “But harassment, stalking, and aggravated online bullying are not expressions of freedom – they are most definitely attacks on it.”
“Let’s not let Coco’s death be in vain or the death of other citizens in our town and villages who have taken their own lives in similar circumstances because of online abuse and let’s ensure that we re-start this conversion and that this law is fast tracked and passed sooner rather than later with our new Government.”
“When it comes to protecting the mental health of our citizens, let us as a Council lead from the front, rather than follow from the back.”
Earlier, Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Kelly tabled a motion calling for the establishment of a special taskforce to investigate the impact Covid-19 is having on the mental helath of young people in the county. He was told a group had been established and would report their findings to the Louth Children Young People Services Committee (CYPSC).
Cllr John Sheridan said the two motions were “two sides of the same coin.”