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We should learn to embrace social media – not to fear it



Over the last number of months, two of my Oireachtas colleagues, Deputy Pat Rabbitte and Senator Lorraine Higgins, have published two separate but similar pieces of legislation to regulate how we communicate using social media.

Ten years ago such legislation would have aroused little interest as the number of social media users in Ireland was quite small.


Today however, that number is moving towards 2.5 million and for many of us our primary interaction with members of our local community is through sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Both Deputy Rabbitte and Senator Higgins have published their legislation in the belief that such legislation is necessary to eliminate the bullying and intimidation that sometimes occurs online.

I disagree fundamentally with this assessment and as a politician I believe it is important to express an alternative viewpoint.

A total of 60% of Irish adults use Facebook and of those, 70% use it every single day. Well over half of us in this country have taken the time to join the world’s largest conversation where a billion people interact in a way that simply wasn’t possible even five years ago.

Recent research published in the US concluded that 70% of teenage social media users say that social media made them feel better connected to their friends’ feelings and 68% of teenage users said that those online friends supported them through challenging times in their lives. Why is this happening?

From the dawn of humanity we as a species have sought to communicate with each other through whatever means is available to us. We always have and we always will.

From hunter gatherer conversations around campfires to communicating with Armstrong on the moon, from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, we have constantly innovated and found new ways of satisfying our need to reach out to others and to express ourselves as individuals. For now, social media is the pinnacle of our communication innovation.

But it is only that, our newest method of communication and it should be subject to no more and no less regulation than our existing methods.

Irish law is quite clear in this area, what is unacceptable in offline communication, is equally unacceptable online.

Where someone chooses to defame or incite hatred under an online cloak of anonymity, there are legal mechanisms to reveal their identity and pursue them using the full rigours of the law.

Dr. T.J. McIntyre, a law lecturer at UCD, has outlined on a number of occasions that the offence of harassment contrary to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 has already been used to prosecute online activity.

In each case, whether civil or criminal, there are already mechanisms to permit the identification of internet users accused of serious wrongdoing.

As politicians we have to be open to fair criticism. We are also mature enough to discern the difference between someone who wishes to express a passionately held opinion and someone who is just spewing spiteful bile.

If we are subjected to unwarranted abuse on our own social media accounts we do have fairly simple options open to us to immediately end that abuse, the “un-friend” and “block” buttons.

These options are no different to binning hate mail or hanging up on abusive callers, something right minded politicians have been doing for decades.

Some of the fear of social media stems from a misunderstanding of how social media works and that can be overcome through education. In particular we need to make people aware of the protection afforded to them by our existing laws and regulations.

However I believe that much of the fear arises from the transfer of communicative power from the few to the many, the democratisation of dissemination.

Anyone with a phone and a social media account can publish their thoughts to the world in a matter of seconds.

Whether those online ramblings are deserving of a Pulitzer or not is irrelevant, we all have an inalienable right to express our opinion.

There are some in the political sphere, both practitioners and media commentators, who are distinctly uncomfortable with this recent transfer of power. They are losing control of the “message” and feel challenged, now that the power to communicate with many is no longer the preserve of the few. Some calls for regulation of social media are well intentioned.

My fear is that those who would like to regain control of public discourse could exploit the genuinely held concerns of others to do exactly that.

After almost every major advance in communications technology there have been attempts to regulate the use of such advances because those who held the communicative power and its associated knowledge felt threatened by these advances.

The Catholic Church attempted to quell the learning revolution facilitated by Gutenberg’s printing press. It is estimated that before Gutenberg’s invention there were perhaps 30,000 books in all of Europe. Fifty years later there were over ten million and the futility of the church’s censorship efforts soon became apparent to everyone.

Less than thirty years ago, in Ceaucescu’s Romania, the humble typewriter was considered to be a dangerous weapon and ownership of that instrument of expression had to be licenced by the Romanian police force.

Thankfully we are now living in far more enlightened times. In July of 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution confirming that online freedom of expression is a basic human right.

The resolution says that all people should be allowed to connect to and express themselves freely on the internet. Coincidentally, Ireland became a member of the Human Rights Council in November of 2012

All politicians who value genuine freedom of expression, including the rights of those who wish to publicly question our actions, should resist any calls for increased regulation of social media.

We should encourage our colleagues to avail of a new and valuable opportunity to communicate directly with the people who elect us, the people who place their trust in us.

Why would we do otherwise?

  • Ciaran Cannon TD was formerly the Minister for Training & Skills at the Department of Education & Skills. He is a long-time advocate and supporter of Coderdojo, and founder of EXCITED – The Digital Learning Movement.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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