Students call for legislation to combat cyberbullying

Social networking sites can be a “hostile environment” where bullying is rife, according to the chairman of Dáil na nÓg in Mayo.

Ed Gannon, a student of St Gerald’s College, Castlebar made his observation at the County Mayo Joint Policing Committee meeting this week which was attended by members of An Garda Siochána, elected representatives, members of Dáil na nÓg and community members.

And while there are many voluntary organisations now working to raise awareness of suicide, which is often the direct result of bullying, Councillor Gerry Coyle said people still don’t know who they would call if a friend was in danger.

According to Cllr Coyle there are too many groups calling themselves suicide awareness groups. “Who would you call if you had a friend in danger. You wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know. A qualified psychiatrist should be involved. I’m not condemning anyone but I’m worried there are too many groups relating to this very sensitive issue. There are too many unqualified people involved.

“I don’t think young people realise they are playing an end game. Once they have taken that decision this is over. That message needs to be hammered home.”

The meeting decided to write to the Minister for Justice to set up a working group to investigate what can be done at national level by way of legislation to combat bullying and cyberbullying. This motion was proposed by Fianna Fáil Cllr Damien Ryan.

Swinford area Councillor Joe Mellett said bullying was such a “huge, huge problem” which can lead to mental health problems and suicide.

Mr Gannon said social network sites need to be monitored. He also admitted that young people wouldn’t know where to turn to if they needed help.

Cllr Mellett said one way in which elected representatives could help the cyber bullying situation was through legislation.

Cllr Al McDonnell agreed saying it wasn’t acceptable that people could be attacked verbally or otherwise and get away with it.

Ballinrobe area Cllr Michael Burke spoke of the impact of bullying on a family and on the individual concerned. But he said it was difficult to legislate against because the Data Protection Act was a “minefield”.

“Anyone can put anything up on Facebook,” he added.

Superintendent Pat Diskin asked the Dáil na nÓg members how young people can be encouraged to come forward and report bullies.

One of the students suggested that school guidance counsellors have a serious role to play and they are people that students have access to.

County Manager Peter Hynes said the issue of bullying has not been given the attention it deserves and needs and added that the discussion was a step in the right direction. “There are no easy answers,” he added.

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