Social Media Transparency Bill 2017

We are all aware of the substantial and increasing role of social media and online fora on our public discourse and in the political sphere. Yet the many rules and safeguards which have emerged in the traditional spaces, everything from disclosure of donations to campaign fund caps, to a requirement that all printed materials must carry a label saying who printed and published them. None of these checks are present in the online space as the legislation has not kept pace with technology.

I introduced my social media transparency bill in the chamber today. The bill applies only to 1) paid political advertising 2) deliberate usage of multiple fake accounts for political purposes (bots).

The main provisions of the bill are:

– The requirement for a disclosure statement on any online political advertising
– The disclosure statement is similar to that already on printed flyers and election posters
– The disclosure statement will state exactly who published and sponsored the post and the target audience
– The social media platforms will be required to capture this information when the ads are purchased
– Failure to provide accurate or truthful information in the disclosure statement will be an offence
– Separately, deliberate usage of multiple fake accounts, for political purposes shall be an offence
– The prohibition on the use of public money for party political uses is re-stated (as per the McKenna judgments)

A link to the bill is Online_Advertising_Social_Media_Transparency_Bill_2017 and my speech earlier today, introducing the bill, is below.

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Unacceptable 14 Week Backlog in Disability Allowance Applications

Disability Allowance applicants are facing a long delay in having their application processed. Constituents have contacted me as they have been waiting weeks since applying for Disability Allowance. Applicants are unable to work and are facing the added stress of delays in payments being approved.

Following my enquiries, it emerged that the office was processing applications received 14 weeks previously. This delay is probably the result of the poor resources available to a limited number of staff.

The Government does not seem to realise that lives are affected by this backlog. This is typical of the dysfunction that has become evident in the Department of Social Protection. Between delays in illness benefit payments and delays in the contributory pension review, it appears that the Government is not properly resourcing the Department and this has to change.


Extra Parking Spaces Approved at Maynooth Train Station

The approval of 34 extra parking spaces for Maynooth Train Station is welcome news which will complement the 38 spaces approved earlier this year.

I discussed parking capacity issues at Maynooth and several other stations with Irish Rail officials earlier this year. The expansion will be welcome to commuters who struggle to find a safe parking space.

While it is a small improvement, Irish Rail’s efforts to improve facilities for commuters are welcome. I will continue to liaise with them on issues affecting the Maynooth line.

Improvements such as this are vital as Irish Rail plan to increase capacity on the Maynooth line. It is planned to extend the DART service with electrification of the line by 2027 and capacity for 2000 passengers.

Lack of Progress on CAMHS Waiting Lists in Kildare

The waiting lists being experienced by patients trying to access the Child and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Kildare has been criticised. Information released to me following a Parliamentary Question revealed that the average wait time for a non urgent routine appointment is anywhere between 3 and 6 months.

This can sometimes be longer depending on the demand for emergency or urgent appointments. This is despite an extra CAMHS community team being established in the Kildare area since 2017 to deal with population growth.

The continuing difficulties with the CAMHS service represent a real failure by the Government and the HSE to get to grips with the problem. Nationally the service has scarcely over half the required staff and until that is resolved, long waiting lists will remain.

It is frustrating that mental health services for children in Kildare are making little to no progress. Time is of the essence when dealing with vulnerable young people and they are being failed by a Government which has shown an inability to make the necessary improvements to youth mental health services.

Meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

I had the opportunity to meet Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during his visit to Dublin. I discussed my Online Advertising and Social Media Transparency Bill to address electoral integrity issues as well as how to moderate harmful content to make the internet a safer place.

Facebook have recently introduced new regulations seeking to provide greater transparency in political advertising, which is welcome in the run up to the EU elections but myself and Mr Zuckerberg agreed that Governments need to set the agenda here.

I also raised my concerns in relation to Facebook’s recent appeal against their fine in the UK for data breaches and the 1.5 billion data sets which left Ireland on the eve of the GDPR. It was a very useful exchange which I hope to continue when attending the international parliamentary committee on disinformation in Canada in May.

Progress on Greenway Welcomed

The plan to develop a 221km greenway all the way from Dublin city centre to Shannon harbour and right across County Kildare progressed today. The Chief Executive of Kildare County Council published his report following the submissions process, during which both Deputy Lawless and his colleague Cllr. Carmel Kelly had assisted a number of local groups and residents in participating in the consultation.

The publication of the report is great news for the entire county, but particularly for all of the towns and villages along the greenway route including Ardclough, Sallins, Naas, Prosperous, Robertstown and beyond. This will compliment the great success of the Royal Canal Greenway through Maynooth, Leixlip and Kilcock in the northern part of Kildare. The boost to tourism, recreation and the local economy that greenway’s such as these bring to an area is significant.

James and Cllr Carmel Kelly pictured at their information event on the public consultation

Commenting, Deputy Lawless thanked all of the stakeholders for bringing it to this stage and all those who made submissions. He congratulated the council on moving quickly through the planning process and taking on board feedback from local residents.

The changes made after the consultation phase are as follows:

  • Sallins village – following significant local feedback the route will now not go down Chapel Lane and across the main square. Instead it will more closely follow the path of the canal past Lock13 & Bridgewater. This will enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety while better integrating with local business and hospitality premises. A Village Centre Traffic Management Plan will also be developed to compliment the new routes.
  • The spike of the route from Sallins into Naas harbour is covered under a separate planning proposal which is at an advanced stage and will go on display in April. This will allow the Naas section to be integrated into the full route.
  • All signage will be bilingual and will also contain heritage information packs.
  • The route will be fully wheelchair and buggy accessible.
  • Marker distance posts will be positioned at 5k intervals along the route.
  • The proposed pedestrian bridge at Sallins will be a high level fixed bridge. The width of the canal will not be reduced at this location and the proposed bridge will have a width and clearance sufficient to permit passage of boats with larger wheel houses.
  • The proposed new swing bridge to the west of Landenstown may be replaced by a mechanically operated lifting bridge (similar to that at Levitstown on the Barrow Navigation) subject to consultation with Waterways Ireland and Canal user groups.
The planned route of the new greenway.