Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Science and Technology James Lawless TD has called on the Government to support his Bill aimed at regulating online campaigning activity.

Deputy Lawless raised the issue directly with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar earlier today in the Dáil.

Deputy Lawless said, “Recent events have clearly demonstrated how certain State actors and criminal organisations are intent on undermining democracy and the rule of law through the use of cyber-warfare and misinformation campaigns. Despite this there continues to be an almost total vacuum on the regulation of online campaigning. This situation simply can’t continue.

“Last year I put forward the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill which aims to combat fake news and prevent the erosion of our democracy. The Bill passed Second Stage in the Dáil last December. Fianna Fáil has made it clear that we are willing to consider amendments to the Bill in order to strengthen this. Despite this the Taoiseach has failed to give any commitment that he will constructively engage with the Bill in order to advance it.

“The Government’s resistance to support measures aimed at tackling fake news is deeply troubling. Why aren’t they willing to put in place the safeguards that are needed to protect our democracy?

“The Secretary General of the Department of An Taoiseach, Martin Fraser, is on record as saying that further action is needed to help regulate online campaigning. This was clearly stated in the recent review of the Strategic Communications Unit. Questions need to be asked as to why the Taoiseach isn’t taking on board the advice of the State’s most senior civil servant.

“I’m repeating my call for the Taoiseach to work constructively with the Dáil in order to combat fake news and dishonest online advertising. The Bill I have put forward contains reasonable proposals and has received the backing of the Dáil. The Oireachtas committee has agreed to prioritise the next stage of the bill and to schedule additional meetings to as to avoid delay.

“Fianna Fáil is willing to work constructively with the Government on this, but the Taoiseach needs to show some commitment to dealing with the explosion of online political fraud,” concluded Deputy Lawless.