Proposed Online Safety Law Silent on Role and Functions of New Online Safety Commissioner

Human Rights and Equality Commission Recommends Balancing of Competing Rights in New Law – Measures must be Legal, Necessary and Proportionate

 The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“The Commission”) has set out concerns that a new law being prepared to build online safety and strengthen media regulation, has no detail on the role or functions of a proposed new Online Safety Commissioner. The Commission has also set out its analysis that the current approach in the draft law to defining harmful online content is “vague and open-ended, and lacks legal certainty.”

The Commission, as Ireland’s national human rights institution, has today published its analysis and 23 recommendations to Oireachtas Members on how it considers the General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill can be strengthened through stronger and more consistent reference to human rights and equality standards.

Protecting people from online harmful content and conduct is a requirement under international human rights law, however measures should be balanced against competing fundamental rights including the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and freedom of assembly.

Considering the significant and far reaching powers being proposed for a new Media Commission in regulating speech in broadcasting and online in Ireland, references to people’s rights and specific protected groups are welcome, but need to be strengthened.

The current approach in the draft law to defining harmful online content, including online hate-speech is vague and open-ended and lacks legal certainty. This legal certainty is important to ensure that the legislation is proportionate and compatible with rights including freedom of expression; to ensure that the definitions will be effective in practice; and finally to ensure that those definitions are not open to misuse or abuse to target content or users unfairly.

The Commission recommends the definition of harmful content be revised to include disinformation and harmful conduct, including grooming and radicalisation. The Commission also recommends terms that relate to hate speech, including racism, sexism and ableism be defined in new law.

To ensure children’s rights and a disability rights perspective are intrinsic in this draft law, the Commission also recommends that both children and people with disabilities are directly consulted by lawmakers.

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“This draft law is seeking to tackle some of the most important challenges facing our society; from the moderation of online content by big tech to children’s online safety, and broader issues of online harassment and tackling online hate.

“Our recommendations focus on the role and functions of the Media Commission, the definition of harmful online content and age appropriate content, and the accessibility of services for people with disabilities.

“This proposed legislation must find a delicate balance between competing rights including the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, privacy and the protection of personal data; equality and the prohibition of discrimination including hate speech, and the rights of persons with disabilities and the rights of the child.”




For further information, please contact:

Karen Joynt, IHREC

01 8589601 / 0851746883

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC


Editor’s Note

The policy statement from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is available at the following link:

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.