Tuesday, 23 May 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms White: I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter on the Adjournment. I am asking the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to outline his plans for specific legislation to outlaw the abhorrent trafficking of women for sex, as recommended in the report of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána working group on trafficking in human beings, published on 5 May 2006.
The trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation is not a new phenomenon, but in recent times it has become a problem for Ireland on a scale never seen before. I understand that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in the process of preparing legislation to bring Ireland into compliance with EU directives and that legislation to make human trafficking for sexual exploitation a specific offence is forthcoming. I wish to underline the seriousness of the problem and to implore the Minister to introduce legislation. We have slipped up in not implementing the EU directives before now. We need legislation that will not only punish those responsible but will also facilitate the prevention and reporting of this appalling crime.
As immigration becomes a normal feature of Irish life, we must be careful that we do not create a culture where immigrants who have been brought into this country illegally are afraid to come forward to report that they are being abused and exploited. We must not allow our immigration policy to prevent us from ensuring that the human rights of every person in our jurisdiction are protected to the maximum extent possible. This is never more important than when considering the plight faced by young women brought into this country illegally to work in the sex trade. We must combat the misconception that this trade is one that women enter into of their own free will.
Often, young women are taken from their homes and families in eastern Europe, seduced by the promise of a better life, only to be reduced to slavery by evil people. The young women are told that members of their family will be killed if they try to escape and they are fed lies about what the Irish authorities will do if they go to them for help.
We must ensure that everyone in Ireland knows that their rights are absolute and that they will be treated with compassion and respect by the authorities. Creating such an environment necessitates acknowledging that the trafficking of human beings for sex is an issue in Ireland, alerting all Irish people to the problem, explaining the seriousness of the situation and the appalling abuse of women and children that the sex trade entails and encouraging people to report any suspicions they may have.
I implore the Minister to do everything in his power to create a situation where victims of sex trafficking are treated as victims and not criminals. We must stamp out the sex trade in Ireland immediately.
Mr. Gallagher: I thank Senator White for raising this important issue and for giving me the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who could not be here tonight, for which he sends his apologies to the House and to Senator White.
I wish to make clear to the House the Government’s commitment to dealing with trafficking in human beings. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. It is a growing international crime which has become a major global business for organised crime groups and networks.
I assure the House that action is being taken to combat this crime, which is being taken very seriously by my Department and the Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána is very proactive in this area and from its intelligence gathering, surveillance and investigations to date, it reports that there is no evidence to suggest that trafficking of persons into Ireland for the purposes of sexual exploitation is widespread. To date, Garda operations have uncovered a small number of trafficking cases.
The international evidence also supports this view. In the recently published United Nations report, Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns, Ireland ranks at the low end of destination or transit countries in western Europe. However, we are still at risk. While the incidence of trafficking in Ireland to date is limited, we face the same threats as those faced by many other countries worldwide.
Gardaí take a proactive approach and are ever vigilant to ensure that any allegations relating to the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation are vigorously investigated. While evidence of the involvement of criminal gangs in the trafficking or smuggling of non-nationals into the State is scarce, a number of specific operations have been put in place with a view to the prevention and detection of any such activity. These operations are ongoing.
On 5 May I published the report, to which Senator White referred, of the working group on human trafficking comprising representatives of my Department and the Garda Síochána. It is very informative with regard to the situation in Ireland and the State’s response to this issue on a number of fronts, including immigration controls, law enforcement activity, protection of victims and legislation. The report is clear evidence that my Department and the Garda Síochána are committed to tackling trafficking in human beings at a national level and to working with our European Union and other colleagues to tackle it internationally.
The Minister recently launched a poster campaign to assist in addressing the trafficking issue. This campaign, which is facilitated by Crimestoppers, will help raise awareness of trafficking among the general public. It will also provide an important point of contact for those who may be victims of, or vulnerable to, this insidious crime. The posters are being displayed at airports, ports, bus and railway stations, among other places. Anyone who phones the free telephone number, 1800 25 00 25, can be assured that the call is anonymous, safe and free of charge. Victims of trafficking, or anyone with knowledge of trafficking activities, should not be afraid to contact the authorities for assistance. In this campaign, the Garda Síochána, the Department and the International Organisation for Migration are available to provide whatever assistance is necessary to victims who come to their attention.
Members of the Garda Síochána attend relevant international meetings to facilitate the exchange of information on best practice between EU member states, Europol and Interpol and to devise strategies capable of combating immigration-related criminality, including trafficking in human beings. The Garda Síochána has also built up a network of bilateral contacts and participates in operations to combat trafficking activity.
Members of the Garda Síochána also participate in the Interpol working group on trafficking in women and children. This group has developed a best practice manual which provides practical guidelines for investigators. The manual is laid out in a structured way to assist the investigator in identifying and locating advice on specific issues. Meetings of the working group are attended by members of Garda specialist units.
A training programme has been prepared for delivery to key Garda personnel throughout the State. The programme has been designed to enable members of the Garda Síochána to identify victims of trafficking who they may encounter in the course of their duties and fully understand the complexity of the phenomenon. It is also designed to ensure that victims receive appropriate assistance from all the relevant agencies.
Legislation creating an offence of trafficking in persons for the specific purpose of sexual or labour exploitation is contained in the draft Criminal Justice (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill. This Bill will comply with the EU framework decision on combating trafficking in persons for the purpose of their sexual or labour exploitation and will also fulfil the criminal law requirements of two other international trafficking instruments, including the 2005 Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings.
The Minister circulated the general scheme of the Bill to the Attorney General’s office and interested Departments last week for their views. He intends to seek Government approval to its drafting within the next two weeks. He expects to publish the Bill later this year.
There can be no doubt about the Government’s commitment to deal with this issue. While we are taking steps to improve our response to it, we have considerable scope for dealing with the issue of trafficking within the current legislative framework. The Minister, the Department and the Garda will continue to work vigorously to prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers and protect victims.
Ms White: I would not have known about this serious issue but for the fact that it was raised on the television programme “Prime Time Investigates” two weeks ago, which showed a young girl in tears saying she was raped. The programme named and showed the apartments in Dublin 4 where that was happening. I said in the House a week ago and repeat now that I am ashamed of the Irish men who treat women in that manner. I thank the Minister of State for the sincere way in which he has dealt with this issue.
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