“By failing to educate our young people on how to be safe online, we have failed to prepare them for one of the single greatest threats they face growing up in 21st century Ireland.”

The below statement was made by the Executive Director of the Digital Youth Council, Harry McCann (19) on behalf of the Digital Youth Council of Ireland. The release is the organisation’s response to the recent media coverage of the Matthew Horan case, and the safety of young people online.

In October 2016, as a member of the Government Data Protection Forum, the Digital Youth Council made a submission to the forums consultation on Article 8 of the General Data Protection Regulation and the digital age of consent. In our submission, the council recommended that the digital age of consent for Ireland should remain at 13-years-old. In our recommendation, we made it clear that we believed that raising the digital age of consent was not in Irelands best interest. We recommended that instead of raising the age, young people would be better protected were the Government to introduce digital education into our schools. The government has thus far failed to act upon our recommendation and digital education continues to be absent from our schools. We believe this failure is putting the young people of Ireland at a huge risk online.

The recent case of Matthew Horan is one that has shocked and disgusted nation. The case has started a welcome discussion on the safety of young people online. The Digital Youth Council welcomes this discussion, however, the calls from the Irish Daily Mail and other media outlets for a smartphone ban and restrictions is not something that the council supports. As a country, we have a responsibility to protect our young people online, and the Digital Youth Council believes the introduction of a ban would be the equivalent of the government sweeping this responsibility underneath the rug.

We believe that government must now act and make introducing digital education into our schools a key priority. The online world opens our young people up to huge risks, however, we believe that by teaching our young people to be safe and responsible online, we can help to protect them from the dangers. Completely guaranteeing their safety online is not possible, but by educating our young people properly we can give them the skills and knowledge necessary to be safer online and to do deal with any problems or threats they may encounter.

The Digital Youth Council also believes that the Taoiseach must also appoint a Digital/Technology Minister. We believe that a Digital/Technology Minister is needed to deal not only with the introduction of digital education into our schools but also to work with An Garda Síochána, other organisations, community groups and businesses to tackle the ever-rising number of online predators, trolls and scammers.

The Digital Youth Council would be delighted to work with the government to help keep the young people of Ireland safe online. I have contacted, and requested a meeting with An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and eagerly await his reply.

Finally, the council would like to emphasise that although technology and the online world opens our young people up to many dangers, risks and threats, it also opens them up to so much more. The Digital Youth Council works with young people all across Ireland who are doing amazing things online, making friends, educating themselves, discovering new opportunities, and changing the world. This is why we urge parents not be fooled by the experts and the media outlets who only discuss and report the negatives. It is so important that parents remember that the majority of the time their children are safe online and using technology to do positive things.”

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