The Minister for Justice has defended the Government's decision to set the digital age of consent at 13.

Charlie Flanagan told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs that expert advice had been sought on the issue.

He said groups including the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Children's Rights Alliance and Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon had recommended the age be set at 13.

Mr Flanagan said the Government formed the view that 13 represented a balancing of the right of children to participate online and to accord with international instruments, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The committee also heard from the Internet Content Governance Advisory Group, which was set up to advise the Government on internet policy.

The group believes the digital age of consent should be lowered to 13 from the default age of 16.

Barrister Ronan Lupton, who is a member of the group, was asked to give an example of a situation where setting the age at 13 would have a negative outcome.

He said that, if a child is dealing with an internet company at the age of 16, and the parent puts a picture of child naked on the internet, the child does not have the right to have that picture taken down without the intervention of the parent.

He added this was a likely scenario as parents can often act in a nefarious way where a relationship is breaking down.

Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway asked him about the reverse scenario "if a young person puts a provocative picture of themselves on the internet, is it the case that a parent cannot have it taken down?"

Mr Lupton replied: "I think that would be the case, yes."

Senator Conway said he believed the vast majority of parents would be horrified by this.

Sinn Féin's Denise Mitchell said she believed it was "very alarming" that a parent could not remove a provocative image of their child from the internet. 

Meanwhile, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs called on leading technology companies to work with the Government in protecting children online.

In her opening statement to the Oireachtas Committee, Katherine Zappone said she believes responsibility for child welfare and protection must be linked with the provision of online services.

She said that the risks and dangers of the internet apply to people of all ages, but children are particularly vulnerable and need greater protection.

Ms Zappone told the committee that responsibility for child welfare and protection must be linked to all services to children

She said Ireland has the advantage of many of the world's leading technology companies having a significant corporate presence here and they can and must work with Government.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten said the Government will not be opposing a Sinn Féin proposal to establish an office of a digital safety commissioner.

However, he said the role needs to be properly defined, and given effective powers and responsibilities.

He said the Government would shortly establish a forum to bring together the main players after which a Government action plan would be formulated and a lead department would be appointed to steer policy.

On the use of smartphones in schools, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said it was for schools to set their own policies, but they must be given guidance.

Asked if smartphones should be banned, he said "the jury is out on that".

Mr Bruton said teacher unions have raised concerns about how to enforce such a ban, but the Government was open to discussing it.