Some 30,000 young people in Ireland have used Britain’s Beat Bullying service in the past five years, equating to one child in every nine using the online mentoring and counselling network.
The shocking figure prompted the charity’s proposals to set up a branch in the Republic, to help deal with the ‘massive need’ of Ireland’s bullied youngsters.
Yet 12 months on that office is no closer to being opened as the organisation has yet to receive the state backing necessary to set up the satellite branch.
Speaking exclusively to The Irish Post, Niall Cowley, Beat Bullying’s International Director, explained: “There were some terrible suicides as a result of cyber-bullying in Ireland last year, and when we looked at our figures we discovered some 30,000 Irish children had used our online services over five years.
“That’s just a third of our non-UK users, which make up a third of our overall users, but 30,000 is a lot of children and there is a massive need there, which is why we approached the Irish government, who told us there was some funding being made available to deal with these issues.”
At the time of making their proposal Beat Bullying highlighted the cases of teenagers Erin Gallagher, 13, and Ciara Pugsley, 15, who both committed suicide in Ireland last year after being tormented by online bullies.
Beat Bullying offers online peer mentoring and counselling for young people who access their services, who are largely aged between 11 and 17.
“We have a very clear road map for what we have planned for the service in Ireland,” Cowley told us.
“But much to our frustration and that of the families of the victims of bullying, the Irish Government still hasn’t done anything actionable.”
He added: “They have produced an action plan but that is just policy, and I’m sorry but policy is not going to help a child who is cutting themselves right now and needs someone to talk to.
“We have been working on this for a year and are having to constantly apply pressure to get them to realise there is no other service providing this in Ireland and that they must act now.”
While Beat Bullying, part of The BB Group, waits for movement from the Irish authorities they continue to provide their services to children in Ireland and across the world, funded by the British taxpayer.
“As an online mentoring network our service is borderless, in the same way that with the onset of cyber-bullying, bullying is borderless,” London-based Cowley, who hails from Monasterboice in Co. Louth, said.
“So we can have children accessing us from anywhere in the world, as long as they speak English.”
He added: “The fact of the matter is we are providing a service to 30,000 Irish kids and that’s being paid for by the British tax payer.
“Of course we would never turn a child away, but there is a lot we could be doing for British based children with that money.
“The Irish government has a sense about this, they know bullying is a serious issue, but they need to move faster to make these services available at home, and understand that a policy announcement does not provide a solution.
“We offer the best off the shelf solution for this problem – we have been operating in the UK for 12 years and operate in six other EU countries. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Irish MEP Sean Kelly is a patron of the Beat Bullying charity. He has organised a major national conference on cyber-bullying for parents, teachers, youth and community groups in Limerick next week.
He hopes the event will help progress the plans to set up Beat Bullying Ireland.
“The Beat Bullying effort seems to be very well placed and a fitting tool to influence young people and address the issue of bullying, cyber-bullying in particular,” the Fine Gael MEP told The Irish Post.
“We do need something like this in Ireland, and the funding should come from Ireland, there may even be the opportunity to get some support from the EU as well.”
He added: “The government departments involved seem to be waiting for an overall policy to be created before moving this forward, but I think the conference will help us make progress and move these plans along.
“They won’t want to make one-off decisions now without having the full picture investigated and a full plan of action in place and I would accept that once it’s not delaying progress on this too long.”
The Irish Post contacted the Irish Government regarding Beat Bullying’s claims but they had yet to respond at the time of going to press.