Ms Dara Quigley, a constituent of mine from Clonshaugh in Dublin Bay North, died tragically by drowning on 12 April 2017. Dara was a talented young journalist and community activist. Among her writings were a sharp and insightful blog entitled “Degree of uncertainty” and articles for the Dublin Inquirer newspaper. Her community activities included a strong role in the water charges protest movement. On the morning of 7 April 2017, Dara was emotionally distressed and found walking naked on Harcourt Street by members of An Garda Síochána who detained her under the Mental Health Act 2001.
This incident was recorded by Garda CCTV cameras and a recording of the footage showing Dara in great distress was allegedly shared in a WhatsApp group, posted onto Facebook and viewed over 125,000 times. Dara became aware of the disclosure while spending some time in rural County Tipperary and five days later she died there by drowning. The tragedy has had a devastating impact on Dara’s mother, Ms Aileen Malone, her siblings and family. They have striven tirelessly to secure accountability and justice for Dara and to support moves in this House and by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to end online image-based sexual abuse.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, undertook an investigation of the leak and dissemination of the CCTV footage. Last August, GSOC informed me that its disciplinary investigation had concluded and a report pursuant to section 97 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 containing recommendations was forwarded to the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, on 25 July. GSOC went on to state that the matter rests with the Garda Commissioner in terms of the application of the Garda discipline regulations but was unable to give a timeframe to the family or to me.
Dara’s family requested a copy of the GSOC report but this was refused. Surely, they are entitled to that. In August 2018, the Data Protection Commissioner confirmed to Aileen Malone that Dara was the victim of an unauthorised data breach, which is an offence under section 22 of the Data Protection Act, as amended. I was also informed by GSOC that Mr. Joe Kelly, the coroner for north Tipperary, was preparing to hold the inquest into Dara’s death last month but this has still not happened. Dara’s mother and her siblings also asked for a meeting with Commissioner Harris. I also contacted the Commissioner supporting that request but unfortunately, so far, that has been declined.
Would the Taoiseach agree that non-consensual distribution of private and intimate images can have appalling consequences? Would he also agree that it is particularly shocking that the publication of these images is based on CCTV footage allegedly linked to An Garda Síochána? Will the GSOC report now be made speedily available to the family and to their solicitor, Mr. Gareth Noble, so that a long-delayed inquest may be held?
Over recent weeks, through Joe Duffy and other journalists, there has been a major public debate about harassment and bullying and the stories of other tragic victims of online abuse have been brought to public attention. I am aware of the work on the matter by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality led by Deputy Ó Caoláin and of Deputy Howlin’s Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017. Do we not need to act very fast in this area?
I agree with the Deputy. On whether the GSOC report can be provided to the family, as he knows, GSOC operates independently of Government and independently of the Garda. However, we will make inquiries as to whether it is possible to share that with the family. At the very least, if there is some reason it cannot be shared, the family should know why.
I take this opportunity to express my condolences and those of the Government to the family of Dara Quigley who sadly died by suicide. The loss of a loved one is always difficult and the grief and trauma experienced by her family due to the circumstances of her death must be particularly harrowing. I also commend her family on how they are raising awareness of important issues including the sharing of intimate images without consent, which can have a severe impact on people’s mental health. I am confident that what they are doing will add to the legacy of Dara through her work and achievements as a journalist and an activist.
I am aware of four particular issues that are being raised: our laws on the creation and sharing of private sexual or intimate images without consent, which the Deputy mentioned; appropriate training for gardaí; the regulation of CCTV; and greater transparency from social media companies about how they deal with image-based sexual abuse. Regarding the creation and sharing of private sexual or intimate images without consent, the Government has agreed an action plan for online safety following the Law Reform Commission report on harmful communications and digital safety, which highlighted the ways in which modern technology can be used to cause harm.
While we already have legislation dealing with harassment and harmful communications, changes now need to be made to ensure that our laws reflect advances in technology and changes in how we communicate. The Minister for Justice and Equality is already working on legislation to strengthen the criminal law in the area of harmful communications, both online and offline. As well as modernising the laws on the sending of threatening or abusive messages, the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill, sponsored by Deputy Howlin, will introduce a distinct offence of stalking and will provide two offences to deal with non-consensual recording and distribution of intimate images.
On training for gardaí, the Garda is continually improving its specialist services. To respond to the needs of special victims, the Commissioner is now setting up divisional protective service units, the equivalent of special victim units, SVUs, that people will be familiar with from New York and elsewhere in the United States. These will have specially trained officers who can engage and interview victims of sex-related crimes. That will enable a much more consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual crimes and domestic violence in particular.
More generally, a range of human rights-focused reforms are being introduced under a policing service for the future, including the establishment of a human rights unit in An Garda Síochána and human rights training for all Garda members, and the codification of legislation defining police powers of arrest, search and detention.
I thank the Taoiseach for his response and his positive intentions to take action in this area. We have the example of how this is addressed in other jurisdictions, such as Australia and New Zealand. Australia has an e-safety commissioner. We clearly need to move to get Deputy Howlin’s Bill passed as soon as possible.
Many people also feel that even the mightiest online platforms, many of which are based just down the road from us, should be held to account directly as publishers when abusive material victimises innocent citizens. That debate has gone on for 20 years since President Clinton’s time. They are, in effect, responsible for material that appears.
The Taoiseach mentioned training for gardaí. One of the other issues that has emerged is the ubiquitous nature of CCTV. We now have facial recognition where operators need to be carefully trained and vetted.
Most of all today, of course, we remember Dara and her valuable contribution to Irish life. I thank the Taoiseach for his comments on that. We also remember the shocking circumstances of the widespread and awful publication of images of her in distress. Her mother, Aileen, and her siblings – her father sadly passed away a few months ago – rightly demand accountability and justice.
Further to the Taoiseach’s comments, I hope the GSOC report will be made available to the solicitor and family and that we will be able to hear what action Commissioner Harris will take. Given that an offence was committed, perhaps there will be action by the DPP and I will welcome the response of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, on that.
The Deputy mentioned the issue of CCTV, which is not quite ubiquitous, but is very commonly present in buildings and on our streets. CCTV is a force for good. It deters crime and enables us to prosecute criminals where crime takes place. It is regulated by law. For example, the Garda Síochána Act 2005 regulates both Garda CCTV and community CCTV in public areas. I know Deputies are familiar with the protections offered by the data protection law over the use of these images. The Data Protection Commission has released guidance, which is available on its website, on CCTV and data protection. It is currently conducting an audit of the practice, operation and governance of CCTV as part of a wider inquiry into surveillance through the use of technologies for law enforcement purposes.
I agree that social media companies can do more in this space. If explicit images are being shared on their platforms, they can do more to prevent them being uploaded in the first place and if they are uploaded, prevent them from being distributed afterwards. Facebook often comes in for criticism. However, Facebook seems to be more effective than other platforms in ensuring that sexual images do not appear on Facebook or at least rarely appear on Facebook. Other platforms could do more in this space.