The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has criticised aspects of proposed new online safety legislation.

The Commission says the current approach in the draft Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill to defining harmful online content is "vague and open-ended, and lacks legal certainty".

It also says it is concerned that the role and functions of the new Online Safety Commissioner lacks detail in the planned new law.

The comments were made in the Commission's submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Media, which is considering the general scheme of the bill.

"This draft law is seeking to tackle some of the most important challenges facing our society; from the moderation of online content by big tech to children's online safety, and broader issues of online harassment and tackling online hate," said Sinéad Gibney, IHREC Chief Commissioner.

"Our recommendations focus on the role and functions of the Media Commission, the definition of harmful online content and age-appropriate content, and the accessibility of services for people with disabilities.

The proposed legislation will see the appointment of an Online Safety Commissioner within a new Media Commission to replace the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

The regulator will have the power to fine internet-based platforms for failing to meet new online safety standards and to hold individuals in those firms to account.

But the IHREC says it thinks the proposals can be strengthened through stronger and more consistent reference to human rights and equality standards.

Ms Gibney said the powers proposed for the Media Commission in regulating speech in broadcasting and online are far-reaching and significant.

"This proposed legislation must find a delicate balance between competing rights including the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, privacy and the protection of personal data; equality and the prohibition of discrimination including hate speech, and the rights of persons with disabilities and the rights of the child," Ms Gibney said.

IHREC says legal certainty around the definition of harmful online content is important to ensure that the legislation is proportionate and compatible with rights including freedom of expression.

It also thinks it will ensure the definitions will be effective in practice and not open to misuse or abuse to target content or users unfairly.

In its submission, the Commission recommends the harmful content definition should be changed to include disinformation and harmful conduct, including grooming and radicalisation, while terms that relate to hate speech, including racism, sexism and ableism should be defined in new law.

Meanwhile, in its submission to the committee, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties expresses the view that it is not clear whether "vague new online-only offences" created in the draft bill meet the standards of legality, necessity and proportionality.

"In particular, the proposed law in regards to regulating non-illegal material for cyberbullying, in respect of services that allow users to share, spread or access content that other users have made available, is overly vague and poorly defined to the point that it is not clear who specifically could be subject to and/or regulated under this Bill and/or when," it said.

It adds that individuals' constitutional rights to freedom of expression, to communicate and to privacy could be damaged if legislation is passed that allows for the issuing of notices for the removal of content "which, for example, is deemed to likely cause someone to feel humiliated".

The ICCL said it is its position that the State should only regulate online speech that is already criminalised and tightly circumscribed.

Last week, Facebook told the committee in its submission that it thinks serious consideration should be given to pausing the planned new national measures on online safety in the bill until similar draft new EU laws are finalised.

The social network warned that parts of the bill could either overlap or conflict with some of what will be contained in a new EU regulation covering similar issues around online content and advertising.