Sunday 15 July 2018

Varadkar's U-turn adds to confusion on web regulator

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Getty Images
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has heightened confusion surrounding the proposed introduction of a digital safety commissioner by saying he had "mis-spoken" when he said the Government had shelved plans for an internet regulator.

Speaking before Christmas, Mr Varadkar said the Government was postponing plans to set up an online regulator that could fine tech companies for breaches of strict internet laws.

The comments were at odds with those of Communications Minister Denis Naughten, who has insisted he is progressing with plans for a first-of-its-kind digital safety commissioner.

Now, the Taoiseach has back-tracked on his comments and admitted he was wrong to suggest plans for a regulator had been delayed.

Addressing the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said: "I may have mis-spoken in December when I commented on the issue of the digital safety commissioner at a press conference.

"To the best of my recollection, the Government has not made a decision on whether to legislate to establish a digital safety commissioner. As I may well be incorrect in that regard, I will double check it. I do not recall a Government decision being made."

However, Mr Naughten has organised a major conference in the coming months to discuss the introduction of an online regulator.

All stakeholders, including international tech companies, have been invited to take part in the event, which will take place on March 8.

Yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he was "not opposed" to any proposal on internet safety but warned the Government needed to be "realistic" about what it could achieve in the area.

"I am very conscious of the issue of digital safety.

"When we are talking about the internet, we are talking about a worldwide web.

"We need to be realistic about what can be achieved by an Irish commission or Irish laws, which of course would have no extra-territorial effect whatsoever," he said.

"That is why I have been putting pressure on the companies themselves, which operate on an international basis outside this country, to be more responsible and to mediate and edit the content that is on their websites."

At a briefing for journalists before Christmas, Mr Varadkar said he had "decided at the moment not to go for" a digital safety commissioner but instead was asking "tech companies to step up to the plate and to do a bit more to protect people".

Irish Independent

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