Seanad Éireann - Volume 195 - 10 June, 2009
Human Trafficking: Motion.
Senator Rónán Mullen Senator Rónán Mullen
Senator Rónán Mullen: I move:
That Seanad Éireann noting:
Ireland is currently positioning human trafficking within its immigration policy and practice and not within the sphere of organised crime;
the victims of sex trafficking are individuals who have experienced human rights abuses at the hands of criminal gangs;
the State has mandated an immigration law enforcement agency as the sole authority for granting the recovery and reflection period to victims;
gardaí who police immigration laws are also given the mandate to deal with victims of the crime of human trafficking, even though the two roles are not compatible because many victims will have broken immigration laws as a consequence of being a victim of human trafficking;
the accommodation and measures set out by the Government to provide assistance to suspected victims of trafficking during the recovery and reflection period is neither conducive to reflection and recovery, nor does it give suspected victims an adequate standard of living;
in practice victims are not granted the six-month temporary residency permit at the appropriate time;
protection and assistance are not based on the human rights of the victims of the crime but are too conditional upon co-operation with the criminal investigation;
in practice the threshold is too high and too “evidence-based” in granting victims the recovery and reflection period and is therefore leaving it very difficult for victims to access this protection;
the process of gathering evidence is traumatising for victims;
it is traumatising for witnesses to testify in front of the accused and their associates in the court room;
there is a concern that the State is “ticking boxes” in its efforts to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings but not adequately addressing victims’ needs;
calls on the Government to:
mandate the organised crime section of the Garda to police human trafficking and deal with victims of the crime;
 act so that gardaí in the organised crime section receive specialised training to deal with this issue;
establish a joint investigation unit to police human trafficking on the island of Ireland more effectively, as human trafficking by its nature is a transnational organised crime and in Ireland it is exacerbated by our loosely monitored border;
include all of Article 14 of the Council of Europe Convention when it comes to granting victims residency in Ireland so that victims of human trafficking in Ireland will be given protection and assistance based on their human rights;
follow the advice of the EU Commission’s expert group on trafficking in human beings;
extend the recovery and reflection period to three months and provide it immediately when someone is identified as a suspected victim;
ensure the identification of suspected victims of trafficking happens in collaboration with law enforcement and victim support agencies;
commit to granting the six-month temporary residency permit immediately to victims when they begin co-operating with the criminal investigation;
relieve victim trauma by ensuring victims have the option of giving evidence by video and testifying in court by video link;
include as part of policy the promotion of exit routes to enable women to move out of prostitution and trafficking situations; and
follow the lead of Sweden, Norway and Iceland by criminalising the purchase of sex so as to target demand in the sex exploitation industry.
I welcome the Minister. This motion is intended to address in a holistic way issues affecting people who are victims of human trafficking. The stark reality of sex trafficking and prostitution was highlighted last December when a series of brothels throughout Ireland and the UK were raided, leading to the arrest of three alleged traffickers, two of them Irish and two female. They are currently in the custody of Welsh authorities awaiting trial, although all three pleaded not guilty to charges brought against them last Friday. The rationale behind the motion is straightforward. Prostitution and human trafficking are practically inseparable. Each depends on the other and each is a direct attack upon the dignity and welfare of the women involved.
The publication today of the national action plan to combat human trafficking has not, unfortunately, allayed concerns that Ireland is currently positioning the issue of human trafficking within its immigration policy and practice and not within the sphere of organised crime, which is where it should be. This is unfortunate and unnecessary and has practical consequences which places the victims of sex industry exploitation even further at a disadvantage. By mandating an immigration law enforcement agency as the sole authority for granting the recovery and reflection period to victims, in effect, a garda not below the rank of superintendent, the State has created an extra prejudice against the welfare of trafficked and prostituted women. Gardaí who police immigration are also given a mandate to deal with victims of the crime of human trafficking, even though the two roles are not compatible because many victims will have broken immigration laws as a consequence of being involved in human trafficking. This is a tragic catch-22 as these persons would not be breaking any immigration laws if they were not already victims of trafficking.
It is inevitable that immigration gardaí consider immigration laws more urgent than those relating to the crime of human trafficking. What often gets lost among the bureaucracy of immigration control is that the victims of sex trafficking are individuals who have experienced human rights abuses at the hands of criminal gangs. It follows from this glaring category error that victims do not receive support appropriate to their vulnerability which would maintain their dignity as persons. The accommodation and measures set out by the Government to provide assistance to suspected victims of trafficking during the recovery and reflection period is not conducive to reflection and recovery, nor does it give suspected victims an adequate standard of living. For example, victims are given accommodation in hostels for asylum seekers. They share bedrooms with at least two other strangers and there is no privacy or space for the victims to recover. There are no facilities to cook their own food, a substantial problem considering the poor standard of food provided.
Victims are given an allowance of €19.10 per week, which is not enough for an adequate standard of living. The Ruhama organisation, which has done excellent work in supporting women in prostitution, many of them victims of human trafficking, and some of whose representatives are in the Visitors Gallery, has regularly supplemented the care of victims by buying them mobile phones and call credit. The phones are necessary for security reasons and to help victims stay in touch with the support services. The allowance of €19.10 a week barely allows victims to buy toiletries or clothing. Hence, Ruhama assists them in this regard. There is evidence that the accommodation provided by the State for suspected victims of trafficking during the recovery and reflection period can put victims at risk of being re-trafficked or found by their traffickers.
In practice, victims are not granted the six-month temporary residency permit at the appropriate time. Often, victims have spoken to the Garda and even given formal statements before they have been granted the permit. They are left with an insecure residency status for a long period, which adds further to their anxiety and trauma. The six-month permit should be granted immediately to victims when they start co-operating with the criminal investigation. We also need to apply the stipulation which allows for the six-month permit to be granted to victims who may need or want to give evidence before the recovery and reflection period expires.
Protection and assistance are not based on the human rights of the victim but are too conditional upon co-operation with the criminal investigation. I am talking about the de facto situation. In addition, the reference in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 to co-operating with the criminal process is unclear. There are concerns for the protection of victims who do not have much evidence to give to a criminal investigation or who are too traumatised to co-operate. In practice the threshold for granting victims a recovery and reflection period is too high and too evidence-based, which means it is difficult for victims to access this protection. In addition, the repetitive and laborious process of gathering hand-written statements is traumatic for victims. In other jurisdictions sophisticated and humane arrangements are made for gathering evidence, such as providing for a video link. I note the Government’s proposed amendment to the motion mentions the possibility, provided for under legislation, of giving evidence by video link in court, but it is also important at the information-gathering stage that we step up to the plate and imitate good practice in other countries.
The failure of practice to match theory in the area of sex trafficking reinforces concerns that the State is simply ticking boxes in its efforts to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, while not adequately addressing victims’ real-life needs away from the bureaucratic scorecards. We need a fresh approach to victims of the sex abuse industry. There is a compelling need to mandate the organised crime section of the Garda to police human trafficking and deal with victims of the crime. What has happened to Operation Quest? How many gardaí are working on this? Is it not the case that the only investigations of significance in the sex industry are being done by ordinary gardaí on the ground and that we do not have the specialists we should have? Even in its best days Operation Quest was only Dublin-based.
Gardaí in the organised crime section should be granted the capacity to identify victims of human trafficking in collaboration with other relevant parties, including victim support groups. When we consider how terrified some of the victims will be, this seems the only humane way to proceed. The gardaí in question should also receive specialised training to deal with this issue and be given a clear protocol on policing brothels. For instance, gardaí need to be aware of the vulnerability of victims and the fact that some may be undocumented owing to the mode of operation of human trafficking. Such people should not be arrested under immigration law. Accommodation needs to be victim-centred, allowing victims to be safe from the perpetrators and to receive the care necessary to recover.
Further efforts are needed, such as the establishment of a joint investigation unit to police human trafficking more effectively. Human trafficking by its nature is a transnational organised crime and in Ireland it is exacerbated by our loosely monitored Border. The traffickers regularly move victims around the island to keep the buyers happy with “new women”. Our police forces need to emulate the strategy of the criminals by networking closely. The victims can also find it confusing, repetitive and stressful when they have to deal with multiple police forces who are investigating the same criminal gang.
In terms of our international obligations, we ought to include all of Article 14 of the Council of Europe Convention when it comes to granting victims residency in Ireland so that victims of human trafficking will be given protection and assistance based on their human rights. Currently, the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill 2008 only includes section (b) of Article 14 and not section (a). Section (a) of Article 14 states with regard to the residence permit that “each party shall issue a renewable residence permit to victims where the competent authority considers that their stay is necessary owing to their personal situation.”
More than this, we must follow the advice of the European Commission’s expert group on trafficking in human beings. The group, established by the European Commission in 2003, has advised that “trafficked persons who do not wish to testify as witnesses — or are not required as witnesses, because they possess no relevant information or because the perpetrators cannot be taken into custody in the destination country — require equally adequate protection and assistance as victim-witnesses.”
With this in mind I call on the Government to implement a number of measures, including the extension of the recovery and reflection period to three months and to provide it immediately when someone is identified as a suspected victim; ensuring the identification of suspected victims of trafficking happens in collaboration with law enforcement and victim support agencies; committing to grant the six month temporary residency permit immediately to victims when they begin co-operating with the criminal investigation; relieving victim trauma by ensuring victims have the option of giving statements by video as is the case in the UK; and including as part of policy the promotion of exit routes to enable women to move out of prostitution and trafficking situations.
This brings me to the final part of the three-pronged holistic approach to aiding victims of the sex exploitation industry. As well as the protection of women caught up in sexual exploitation and the promotion of exit route strategies to aid these women to escape from the sex industry, there is a need to follow the lead of Sweden, Norway and Iceland by criminalising the purchase of sex to target the demand for the sex exploitation industry. Reports indicate that criminalisation has been effective and that there has been a reduction in the number of women in prostitution in Sweden and a relative reduction in human trafficking activity since criminalisation.
When I tabled amendments to the Human Trafficking Bill last year, glib responses were given to me. I was told that it was not clear that what had been done in 1999 in Sweden had worked. Since then Norway and Iceland have followed suit. Sweden has reported a massive reduction in prostitution. When trafficking has been on the rise elsewhere, they have managed to block it in that country.
We were also given the glib response that demand is never dispersed but only displaced, as if that would not be a significant achievement in itself, with a country reducing the incidence of prostitution and exploitation through trafficking. The jury, however, is no longer out.
There are many glib assertions that prostitution is the oldest profession when it is really the oldest oppression. Many crimes have existed since the time of Adam and there are some crimes we may never fully stamp out, but that does not mean we should not seek to deter them. By criminalising the purchase of sexual services, we would help make this country a cold house for traffickers by tackling the demand side of the market.
If the Government is serious in its approach to the sexual exploitation industry it will give legal effect to the above considerations. The dignity and welfare of those who, for whatever reason, are caught up in this web of exploitation demand no less than the most robust legal safeguards. Criminalising the purchase of sex makes Ireland a cold house for sex traffickers and makes it less likely that persons will fall into the clutches of the sex industry. When it comes to prostitution and sex trafficking we have to ensure that everything is done to reduce demand. We have to demand that women are given their own lives to live and not a nightmare substitute.
Senator Joe O’Toole Senator Joe O’Toole
Senator Joe O’Toole: I congratulate Senator Mullen on the work he has done on this motion. It is crucially important and reflects where we are as a society, even if it makes many people feel uneasy.
This is an issue I have raised over the past 15 years and it is time we were honest and open about how we deal with it. There are arguments about this issue but society is afraid to act. There is no logical reason, if we look at the triangle between the pimp, the prostitute and the punter, that two of those people are trading in illegality while the other goes scot free in law. Someone pimping a woman, a child or even a man, who is selling sex to someone, and the prostitute who is part of that, are guilty under the law of the land while the third person is not.
I do not like using words such as “client”. It is like the phrase “oldest profession”, it is used as if a person is buying a glass of port or going to see the dentist. It is an unequal relationship in every way possible.
The Minister takes a solid and sensible view of the world. We cannot have a situation where the person using the services of a pimp or a prostitute cannot be found guilty. It is possible to go through legislation and point to a line that states that a person can be charged with using the services of a prostitute but I have not been able to find any such case in the past 20 years. It is not acceptable to use that excuse.
This is about supply and demand. By allowing a situation where the person creating the demand is not charged or found guilty, we are driving sex slavery. We are fuelling and feeding the abuse of women. One of the problems I have with the new immigration regulations is that people must drop under the radar for three or four months while they try to secure a new residence permit. This is a classic example of how people drop out of the official system into the nether world where they are wide open for exploitation. I have heard the Minister’s arguments in favour of the new regulations and I understand his motivation, but this will create problems.
We should think back to the debates we had on child pornography. Why did we introduce that legislation that made it a crime for someone to look at child pornography or to possess images, film or computer files containing child pornography? We all agreed that looking was a crime because it encouraged, fed and supported the exploitation and abuse of children somewhere else. The thinking was logical — if we allow people to look at and pay for child pornography, somewhere else down the line, we are encouraging child abuse and paedophilia. That was the reason behind it. It is absolutely logical. There is no gainsaying that. We should close this gap. If we are looking at the question of equality — I do not mean equality in the legal sense but in terms of the perfect meaning of the word — how can two sides of the triangle be guilty but the third side, without whom this cannot operate, never be found guilty? The only way to deal with this is by way of the final point in Senator Mullen’s motion, that is, to follow the lead of Sweden, Norway and Iceland by criminalising the purchase of sex in order to target the demand for the sex exploitation industry.
I have spent much of my life in situations where I win the argument but get no delivery on the facts at the end of the day. I have spent many occasions shouting across tables when I have been sure of winning the argument. I am absolutely certain I can win the argument tonight but I am very uncertain as to whether that will get any result at the end of the day.
Legalising prostitution is another argument which will come into this debate. This is part of what Senator Mullen referred to as using terms like “the oldest profession”. As he quite rightly said, it is not the oldest profession but the oldest oppression and suppression. It can never be anything else. By using a term such as “sex worker”, it is as if somebody suddenly decides to leave the restaurant business and become a sex worker. It is unacceptable. That kind of soft, user-friendly language, which has tried to take the sting out of what is happening here in ways which make it possible to include it in polite conversation, is unacceptable. It is an abuse of language. It should be seen as such.
People are not prostitutes by choice, except in pornographic material. We are told people love this job and find it easy and so on. Women who become prostitutes do so because they are driven by desperation and as a result of being victims of poverty, drugs, addiction, fear and other negative aspects.
By saying that, in some way, brothels and prostitution allow usually brutal men to find sexual satisfaction, because were it not available they would take it out on people close to them or on innocent people walking the roads or other groups, is like saying it was lucky we put the people in the institutions referred to the Ryan report because if they were not abusing children there, they would have abused children somewhere else. What is happening is unacceptable.
I am happy to second Senator Mullen’s motion and appeal to the Minister to take it seriously and to colleagues on all sides of the House to look at what we are doing in terms of respect for the dignity of women, in particular, and for poor people who are exploited and trafficked, especially immigrants. We must take this action and I commend the motion to the House.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following:
welcomes the publication of the comprehensive National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Human Beings in Ireland 2009-2012;
 notes the extensive package of legislative and administrative measures undertaken in the past 18 months to prevent trafficking in human beings, protect the victims and prosecute the offenders;
welcomes the coming into operation of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 and the arrangements providing for a 60 day recovery and reflection period for suspected victims and for a six month temporary period of residency in the State, which is renewable;
acknowledges the provision in the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act extending the provisions of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, including the giving of evidence through a live television link, to victims of trafficking;
recognises the provision in the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act that made it an offence to solicit a trafficked person, in any place, public or private, for the purpose of prostitution;
acknowledges the deployment of Garda resources is a matter for the Garda Commissioner based on his professional assessment of the operational requirements;
acknowledges that the Garda Síochána is the sole authority within the State vested with the power to undertake an investigation into a claim that an offence of human trafficking has been perpetrated and having regard to such powers reaffirms that the Garda Síochána is the appropriate authority to consider if there are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence may have been committed;
commends the concerted efforts of the Garda Síochána in the identification and protection of victims and in the determined fight against trafficking in human beings and notes the progress being made in this regard;
notes the establishment of dedicated units in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána to address the issue of human trafficking;
welcomes the links which the dedicated Units in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána have established with other jurisdictions for the purpose of providing a comprehensive, cross-border and international approach to tackling issues of human trafficking;
reaffirms that the Minister is the sole authority who has been vested with the power to grant a period of recovery and reflection in the State;
notes that the 60 day recovery and reflection period goes beyond the minimum period of 30 days provided for in the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings;
notes that the current administrative arrangements provide that the Minister may grant a temporary residence permission prior to the expiry of the period of recovery and reflection;
reaffirms that the provision of protection and assistance to a suspected victim of human trafficking is not conditional on victims co-operating with the authorities;
 notes that when a person is identified as a potential victim of human trafficking priority consideration is given to the grant of a period of recovery and reflection and the subsequent grant of temporary residency permission;
supports the partnership approach adopted between Governmental and non-governmental agencies and international organisations in addressing trafficking in human beings both within and outside the jurisdiction;
acknowledging the supporting role that organisations and individuals engaged in this area can provide to potential victims of human trafficking, calls on those organisations or individuals to encourage and support such persons when engaging with the State authorities and calls on such organisations or individuals to engage with the State authorities to the greatest extent possible so as to assist in the fight against human trafficking and to support early identification of potential victims of human trafficking;
notes the Government’s commitment to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Beings and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime as soon as all the necessary legislative and administrative arrangements are in place.
I compliment Senator Mullen on tabling the motion. Although I do not agree with all the points raised, such a debate is needed. I welcome the publication of the comprehensive national action plan to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings in Ireland 2009-12. I note the extensive package of legislative and administrative measures undertaken in the past 18 months to prevent trafficking in human beings, protect the victims and prosecute the offenders. I also welcome the coming into operation of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 and the arrangements providing for a 60 day recovery and reflection period for suspected victims and for a six month temporary period of residency in the State, which is renewable.
I acknowledge the provision in the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 extending the provisions of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, including the giving of evidence through a live television link, to victims of trafficking. I recognise the provision in the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 that made it an offence to solicit a trafficked person, in any place, public or private, for the purpose of prostitution. I acknowledge that the deployment of Garda resources is a matter for the Garda Commissioner based on his professional assessment of the operational requirements. I also acknowledge that the Garda Síochána is the sole authority within the State vested with the power to undertake an investigation into a claim that an offence of human trafficking has been perpetrated and having regard to such powers reaffirm that the Garda Síochána is the appropriate authority to consider if there are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence may have been committed.
I commend the concerted efforts of the Garda Síochána in the identification and protection of victims and in the determined fight against trafficking in human beings and I note the progress being made in this regard. I also note the establishment of dedicated units in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána to address the issue of human trafficking. I welcome the links which the dedicated units in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána have established with other jurisdictions for the purpose of providing a comprehensive, cross-border and international approach to tackling issues of human trafficking.
I reaffirm that the Minister is the sole authority who has been vested with the power to grant a period of recovery and reflection in the State. I note that the 60 day recovery and reflection period goes beyond the minimum period of 30 days provided for in the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings and that the current administrative arrangements provide that the Minister may grant a temporary residence permission prior to the expiry of the period of recovery and reflection.
I reaffirm that the provision of protection and assistance to a suspected victim of human trafficking is not conditional on victims co-operating with the authorities. I note that when a person is identified as a potential victim of human trafficking priority consideration is given to the grant of a period of recovery and reflection and the subsequent grant of temporary residency permission.
I support the partnership approach adopted between governmental and non-governmental agencies and international organisations in addressing trafficking in human beings both within and outside the jurisdiction. I acknowledge the supporting role that organisations and individuals engaged in this area can provide to potential victims of human trafficking, call on those organisations or individuals to encourage and support such persons when engaging with the State authorities and call on such organisations or individuals to engage with the State authorities to the greatest extent possible so as to assist in the fight against human trafficking and to support early identification of potential victims of human trafficking.
I note the Government’s commitment to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Beings and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime as soon as all the necessary legislative and administrative arrangements are in place.
Any sort of trafficking is a very serious crime. Ten or 15 years ago, this issue was not to the fore in Irish society. Regrettably, it has come to the fore and the Minister, the Department and the Government are taking the appropriate steps in this regard. Significant moves have been made, as set out in the amendment to the motion.
I recognise the sincerity of Senator Mullen in tabling the motion which is worthy of debate but take issue in that there seems to be an insinuation that the Garda National Immigration Bureau is incapable of carrying out its mandate to protect victims of human trafficking because it also enforces Ireland’s immigration laws. The gardaí are very experienced in being able to differentiate between an immigration issue and a human trafficking one. By and large, they have considerable experience in this regard. That should be clarified.
The Garda Síochána has much experience dealing with victims of all kinds of violence and trauma and has a well deserved reputation for dealing with vulnerable victims with sensitivity and understanding. The suggestion that members of the Garda National Immigration Bureau might act differently because a person is a victim of human trafficking or an irregular migrant is unwarranted and inappropriate. I note with approval that the Garda Síochána has recently established a human trafficking investigation co-ordination unit within the Garda National Immigration Bureau. Efforts by the Garda, including its co-operation with agencies such as Interpol in Europe and others in the United States and even Asia, have led to significant progress in terms of highlighting and, so far as possible, detecting the issues surrounding human trafficking. As I said, it is a most deplorable crime, particularly where it involves the trafficking of children. My views on this are well recorded. The Garda Síochána has given priority to child trafficking by way of Operation Snow, which was undertaken by the Garda National Immigration Bureau in 2007 and is designed to prevent the trafficking of minors into or within the State, ensure the welfare of suspected victims of such criminal activity is adequately provided for, and achieve prosecutions where criminal activity of this nature has been detected.
While I welcome the thrust of the motion, it must be acknowledged that the Minister and his Department are doing good work in this area. Nevertheless, I recognise that much more remains be done.
Senator Eugene Regan Senator Eugene Regan
Senator Eugene Regan: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. Fine Gael supports the motion before the House. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this difficult and important issue. Human trafficking is the third most lucrative illicit business in the world after arms and drug trafficking. The Government’s record in this area is not impressive. The introduction of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 was an important step. However, there are deficiencies in the legislation which are already becoming apparent in terms of its effectiveness. The Government has ignored various proposals in this area from both the Opposition and from relevant non-governmental organisations. Having said that, I welcome the publication today of the long-awaited national strategy on human trafficking, which addresses many of these issues.
Human trafficking is a growing industry in Ireland and requires the immediate provision of support and protection services. There must be a comprehensive strategy to tackle this activity. The estimated value of the sex trafficking industry in the State is €180 million, yet there have been no prosecutions to date of perpetrators of this activity. In its 2008 report, entitled Trafficking in Persons, the United States Department of State placed Ireland in the second of three performance tiers, based on an assessment of its record in prosecuting offenders, protecting victims and preventing abuses. It described Ireland as a “destination country” for women, men and children trafficked for the “purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour”. The report recommended that Ireland establish formal policies and procedures to ensure victims are provided with access to protection and assistance in co-ordination with anti-trafficking non-governmental organisations and implement a visible trafficking demand reduction campaign. Thus far, the Government has made no response to these recommendations, but the plan announced today presumably represents an effort to address this.
The major problem with the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 relates to its enforcement in respect of the identification of a person as a victim of trafficking. At present, there are no clear policies or guidelines for identifying a woman as trafficked. Nor is it clear what should happen to women who have been identified as victims of sex trafficking. To date, Ireland has not officially identified any victims of trafficking. The consequences for women being detected but not designated victims of trafficking are serious, ranging from arrest to deportation. Victims of trafficking who come forward to authorities effectively receive no protection. It is they — the victims, not the traffickers — who are most likely to end up in prison. They are identified first and foremost as illegal immigrants.
The focus of the Garda Síochána’s efforts in tackling human trafficking should move from the Garda National Immigration Bureau to the Garda organised crime unit. Specialist anti-trafficking officers must be appointed within the force to identify and refer women in prostitution to appropriate services. There is an opportunity, on Report Stage of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008, to put in place substantive protection procedures for victims of trafficking. Without adequate protections in place, it will be difficult to secure prosecutions at the supply end of this growing industry.
There is a difficulty with the statistics relating to human trafficking. In this regard, I welcome the undertaking in the action plan announced today to garner more reliable data on the extent of the problem. It is only when this information is available that we can identify and introduce the necessary corrective measures. Those data that are available are worrying. The recent report by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution, published in April 2009, identified a minimum of 102 women and girls as sex trafficked in 2007 and 2008, 11 of whom were children. It is estimated that up to 97% of the 1,000 women involved in indoor prostitution in Ireland at any given time are migrant women.
Concerns have been expressed in regard to proposals for the provision of temporary residence status to victims of trafficking. The reality is that if we adopt a sensible and practical application of a temporary residency system, with clear qualifying criteria, abuse of any such system should not follow. Without such protections clearly expressed for victims, they will not come forward to the Garda authorities. This is fundamental to securing convictions against those directly involved in this trade. By doing this, we are hitting the supply end of the industry.
It is clear that a purely criminal law response will not resolve the problem of human trafficking. We must provide sheltered accommodation and other support services for identified victims of trafficking and those who come forward. Fine Gael has tabled an amendment to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, currently on Committee Stage, to extend the remit of the Sonas Housing Association, which offers accommodation and support services to victims of domestic violence, to include a service to sex trafficked victims. I hope the Government will accept this proposal.
In the United Kingdom, the British Home Secretary has put forward proposals to introduce a provision of direct liability whereby ignorance of the status of an individual as sex trafficked is not a defence in court, which it is under the law of this State. Whether such a provision would pass the constitutional test is another matter. Senator Mullen observed that Sweden and Norway have introduced legislation criminalising the purchase of sex. Fine Gael supports such an approach in principle. It is extraordinarily inequitable and unjust that the seller of sex — to put it euphemistically — is the only criminal in the equation. However, Senator Mullen did not explain that since those two countries have decriminalised the selling of sex, this has had the effect of reducing human trafficking. While prostitution is a criminal offence in this country, it seems fair that the purchaser should also be criminalised. That is an issue in respect of which further debate is required.
Deputy Dermot Ahern Deputy Dermot Ahern
Deputy Dermot Ahern: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Senator O’Toole exhorted me to take this matter seriously. I hope he was not suggesting I do not take it seriously because nothing could be further from the truth. I am glad the proposers of the motion have welcomed the launch earlier today of the national action plan to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings in Ireland for the years 2009 to 2012. I will use this opportunity to enlighten some of the Senators in respect of the type of measures we have put in place during the past 18 months. While I am not seeking credit, they should acknowledge that some fairly significant changes have taken place in this area.
The publication of the national action plan is a landmark in the approach we are taking to dealing with the scourge of trafficking. In the circumstances, it is particularly appropriate that we are debating this matter today. The plan sets out the measures which have already been undertaken to prevent trafficking, protect victims and prosecute offenders. It also identifies areas in respect of which further action is required and sets out the structures which, when fully in place, will allow Ireland to ratify the international instruments dealing with trafficking in human beings.
The plan is based on what is known as the three Ps in the area of trafficking, namely, prevention, protection and prosecution. Among the future initiatives planned are awareness raising by means of targeted campaigns, educational and other programmes, information aimed at law enforcement and front line personnel, victims, migrant communities, countries of origin; the provision of legal advice and assistance to potential and suspected victims of trafficking by the Legal Aid Board; the development of a data strategy to establish the nature and extent of human trafficking in Ireland which will provide an evidential basis for future policies and programmes to tackle trafficking in persons; the provision of comprehensive information outlining the rights and services available to potential and/or suspected victims and the contact details for organisations which will be useful to a potential and-or suspected victim; and measures to ensure the security and integrity of passports, travel and identity documents.
Senator Mullen referred to significant work done by Ruhama and a number of other NGOs in this area. My Department has funded Ruhama to the tune of €320,000 this year. Some €250,000 of this money came from the probation service and is devoted to court and outreach work, advocacy and assisting trafficking victims. In addition, a €60,000 grant was provided by the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime to allow representatives of Ruhama to accompany victims to court. The Senator must acknowledge we have provided significant assistance to Ruhama in this regard.
I wish to outline some of the developments in the fight against the crime of trafficking. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act is the primary and most recent legislative measure underpinning the Government’s fight against this despicable crime. I do not accept the comments made by Senator Regan. Legislation is always a living document and can and should be changed, depending on the circumstances that arise. However, this legislation has only been in operation since 7 June 2008. While there are no prosecutions being pursued at present, investigations are taking place. When legislation relating to this area was enacted in 2000, it was many months before cases were brought. Later I will provide figures with regard to the number of investigations that are taking place.
The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 creates offences criminalising trafficking in persons for the purpose of their sexual or labour exploitation or for the removal of their organs and provides penalties of up to life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of committing these offences. This Act is a milestone in our determination to rid this country of the scourge of traffickers and to ensure that nothing in our criminal justice system acts as a discouragement to trafficked persons from seeking assistance and, ultimately, from giving evidence against the traffickers. A number of investigations into allegations of trafficking under the provisions of the Act are ongoing. When these are complete an investigation file will be prepared and submitted to the law officers for consideration as to what charges, if any, can be brought. Neither I nor the Government are the actors in respect of this matter. The Garda must investigate matters, produce files and then submit them to the DPP, who is independent in his functions.
A number of provisions in the 2008 Act also offer protection under the criminal law to trafficked persons. Witnesses may fear for their own safety and possibly the safety of their families in their home countries. For that reason, the Act provides for the exclusion of the public from court proceedings and, in addition, victims are granted anonymity. In addition, a trafficked person will be able to give evidence, whether in Ireland or abroad, through a live television link.
One issue that was the subject of much comment during the debates on the 2008 legislation was that of prostitution. Where that was directly relevant to the legislation, it was addressed through the tabling of ministerial amendments that made it an offence to solicit or importune a trafficked person, in any place, for the purpose of prostitution. A person convicted on indictment for the offence could face up to five years’ imprisonment.
Pressure was exerted upon us with regard to criminalising soliciting by clients in all circumstances and, simultaneously, to decriminalise soliciting by prostitutes. This pressure was resisted during the debates that took place in this House and in the Dáil because of lack of evidence with regard to the results of such a radical change in the law. I am conscious of the statements that have been made by Members of both Houses and this is a matter I will keep under constant review. I have informed officials of my Department working in the areas of human trafficking and criminal law that I will continue to monitor the position carefully and that, if necessary, I will change the law if evidence which shows a radical change of this nature would make a difference is presented to me.
As a result of changes in our legislation, it is an offence for a person to solicit another person in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution. The offence can be committed by the customer, male or female, the prostitute, male or female, or a third party acting for them. The term “public place” is defined to include any place to which the public has access whether as of right or by permission or whether subject to or free of charge. The related crimes of living on the earnings of a prostitute, the organisation of prostitution, procuring a woman or girl for prostitution, advertising of brothels, the services of prostitutes and causing and encouraging the prostitution of a child are also criminalised under various legislation. My Department is currently preparing legislation that will make it an offence to have sex with a child under 18 years of age in exchange for money or some other consideration or by abuse of a position of trust, authority or influence over that child.
As already stated, I will keep the laws on prostitution under review and we are monitoring the position in other countries. If we come to believe that there is a need to change the law, I will bring forward proposals in the usual way. Reference was made to Sweden and one or two other countries where the purchase of sex, as it is described, in any place is a criminal offence and where the selling of sex in any place has been decriminalised. Norway has adopted a law similar to that which obtains in Sweden. However, Finland, Sweden’s other neighbour, adopted a law similar to that which obtains here.
The position in the UK is not as stated in the report in The Irish Times today. As I understand it, the Policing and Crime Bill 2009 is on Committee Stage in the House of Lords. This Bill makes it a crime to pay for sex with someone who has been the subject of force, deception or threats of a kind likely to induce or encourage the provision of a sexual service. This provision is similar to that contained in section 5 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. I am of the view, therefore, that we should not always assume our laws are inferior to those of other jurisdictions. The well thought out Irish laws governing the criminalisation of public soliciting for the purpose of prostitution, the running and advertising of brothels and the organisation of prostitution were introduced to deal with conditions that obtain in this country. Any changes will be for the same reason. Any legislation amending the laws on prostitution would have to take the interest of prostitutes into account. I regard prostitution as primarily a social problem, with the criminal law intervening only when other persons are adversely affected or a criminal offence is committed. To change the law, I would have to be satisfied any such change would be in the interest of prostitutes, would not leave them open to even greater exploitation by pimps, would not make it easier to persuade young boys or girls into prostitution, and would not increase the danger experienced by prostitutes by driving prostitution underground or leaving them exposed to a more violent type of client who is not put off by changes in the law. Considering the experience in Sweden, there are suggestions that prostitution has gone further underground because of the changes in the law.
Senator Rónán Mullen Senator Rónán Mullen
Senator Rónán Mullen: That is out of date.
Deputy Dermot Ahern Deputy Dermot Ahern
Deputy Dermot Ahern: My Department is keeping laws under review. The recent report by the Immigrant Council of Ireland is being examined. We note that the report recommends the Swedish model. Confusingly, the comparative research quoted in the report states that one in 15 men in Ireland reported buying sex compared to one in eight in Sweden. We must be careful in how we measure the success of the steps taken by Sweden and Ireland. I have asked the anti-human trafficking unit to examine the findings and any action we believe necessary will be considered and put in place. We will examine the experience of other countries.
The relationship between trafficking and immigration is clear. Victims of trafficking may experience added vulnerability in circumstances where they are present in the State illegally. The provisions of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008, currently before Dáil Éireann, fully address this issue. However, the Government is not waiting for passage of the new legislation. On the contrary, it has brought in similar provisions on an administrative basis and acceded to Deputies’ requests on Committee Stage by increasing the reflection period from 45 to 60 days, double what is provided for in the Council of Europe Convention. The Bill and the administrative arrangements also provide a temporary residence permission, in circumstances where the victim wishes to assist the Garda Síochána or other authorities with any investigation or prosecution. It is possible for me to intervene in circumstances where a person remains so traumatised as to be incapable of assisting the authorities, having been granted a period of recovery and reflection, and if the circumstances of the case are of such an exceptional and compelling nature, further consideration of the person’s status in the State may be warranted. There is plenty of protection for someone we suspect is the victim of trafficking.
I do not intend to list every measure being taken to address this issue but I will outline some of the significant measures. My Department has established dedicated units in my Department, as has the Garda Síochána in the Garda National Immigration Bureau. A high level interdepartmental group, reporting to me, has been established. I attended one of these meetings. A multidisciplinary partnership approach has been adopted, consisting of an NGO, governmental and international organisations, a round table forum and five interdisciplinary groups, comprising 34 different groups dealing with different aspects of trafficking. These are awareness raising and training, development of a national referral mechanism, labour and sexual exploitation and child trafficking. I attended one of these round table meetings last year to hear the issues at first hand. An awareness raising campaign has been aimed at the public and personnel likely to encounter victims of trafficking and training for law enforcement and other front line personnel likely to encounter victims of trafficking.
I refer to provision of accommodation, health care and material assistance for potential and suspected victims by the Reception and Integration Agency in the case of adults and by the HSE in the case of children. Some NGOs and Oireachtas Members questioned the use of the Reception and Integration Agency accommodation for potential and suspected victims. I am satisfied the standard of accommodation in the Reception and Integration Agency system is suitable for suspected victims of trafficking in the same way as it is suitable for asylum seekers. All accommodation costs are paid directly by the State. Potential and suspected trafficking victims will, like asylum seekers in the Reception and Integration Agency, receive a small cash allowance, which has been assessed to take into account any benefit and privilege including full board and lodging. Potential and suspected trafficking victims will also benefit from ancillary services, including free medical screening on arrival into the asylum accommodation system. They generally qualify for a medical card, making them eligible to receive a wide range of health services free of charge, including GP services, prescribed medicines and HSE supports including public health and community welfare support. A key worker from the HSE devises a care plan for that person based on contributions of assessment of needs from a range of people, including NGOs. Ireland is providing significant assistance and protection in this respect. We are not unique in providing asylum accommodation for potential victims of trafficking. Such accommodation is already provided in Finland and, in some cases, in the UK where a person is referred by the UK borders agency. The Garda Síochána also provides crime prevention advice to potential victims, including the advice that they should not identify themselves to other residents as being suspected victims. This is suitable and acceptable.
Senator Regan referred to the determination of suspected victims. In determining whether someone is a victim of trafficking, the Garda Síochána takes into account all available information at the time the case is being considered. Each case depends on its merits and each will be determined on a case by case basis. It is important that all relevant agencies provide the Garda Síochána with all information in their possession, whether this supports a claim or otherwise, to enable it to make informed and timely decisions. At a recent meeting of the national referral mechanism working group, set up by the interdepartmental high level group, the Garda Síochána provided a detailed explanation of the process it uses to identify suspected victims of human trafficking. The indicators used are based on the general indicators published in the UN global initiative to fight human trafficking and include whether the person was deceived about the nature of the work or where the person would be working, whether the person’s documents were confiscated and whether there is debt bondage or a threat of violence. Other indicators include the type of deception used, the person’s legal status, whether the person has been forced to lie to friends or authorities and whether the person is dependent on those who exploit him or her. The point raised by Senator Regan has been examined. The referral group will continue to monitor it.
The Garda Síochána is to the forefront in the investigation of the crime of trafficking. I have seen this and have spoken to gardaí in the context of cross-Border co-operation with colleagues across the Border. I attended a meeting in Enniskillen last year, where over 200 law enforcement agents from both sides of the Border discussed human trafficking and how the Border is used. It is good to see co-operation between the various agencies, not just the Garda Síochána and the PSNI, in the fight against human trafficking in the island of Ireland. Having regard to the powers vested in the Garda Síochána, it is the appropriate authority to undertake a consideration as to whether there are reasonable grounds for believing an offence may have been committed or that a person may be a potential victim of human trafficking. We must operate on the basis of an objective professional assessment that what we are dealing with is a trafficking situation. That is why it has been decided the assessment is to be made by a senior Garda officer. As to which branch of the Garda Síochána should play the lead role, that must be an operational decision for the Garda Commissioner to make. In that sense, it is no different from the way in which the Commissioner assigns resources and responsibilities on a daily basis to provide the most effective law enforcement response to other serious criminal activity. The Commissioner has decided to establish a dedicated unit in the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, for the investigation of trafficking and this is a very positive development. In this context it should be recalled that although trafficking does not have to entail cross-border movement, there is a strong link with immigration and border control. Furthermore, there should be regard for the added immigration functions of an immigration officer vested in members of the Garda Síochána attached to the bureau, the role of the bureau in regard to border management and the cross-border movement of persons and its role in regard to international liaison on such matters.
As Senators are aware, there are no fixed border controls in respect of persons travelling between North and South but the Garda National Immigration Bureau, the British Border and Immigration Agency, the PSNI and the British police are engaged in close co-operation in order to deal with irregular cross-Border activities. The working relationships already established will be of immense benefit on an all-island basis and also within the common travel area. The arrangements in this jurisdiction for assessing whether a potential trafficking system exists is in line with the practice in a number of European and other countries where the equivalent competent authorities are members of their law enforcement or police forces.
Turning to recovery and reflection periods and temporary residence, I have already indicated the position. Upon identification as a potential victim of human trafficking, priority consideration is given to the grant of a period of recovery and reflection and any subsequent grant of temporary residence permission. With regard to the breakdown of cases referred by various organisations, in 2008, 96 were referred to or encountered by GNIB, with 22 referred by Ruhama; 51 were encountered by GNIB; 18 from the Office of Refugee Applications Commissioner, ORAC; three from the HSE; two from the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, MRCI; with none from the Immigrant Council of Ireland, ICI. Until 5 June 2009, there were 55 cases encountered by GNIB and under investigation, with seven from Ruhama, 34 encountered by GNIB, eight from ORAC, two from the HSE, three from the MRCI and one from ICI.
When we speak about victims, we should not limit our thinking to the person against whom it is believed a crime has been committed. Everything possible must be done to bring the perpetrators to justice so as to prevent their committing further crimes and the creation of future unfortunate victims. We should not underestimate the importance of the contribution that a victim can make in helping the authorities investigating their case and the extent to which that co-operation may be instrumental in combating future trafficking. This is recognised in the EU directive providing for temporary residence periods for people providing this sort of assistance.
We should be clear that what we are talking about is immigration permission. The provision of protection and assistance to a victim of human trafficking is provided when an initial claim of trafficking is made. There might be some confusion on the issue of who determines access to the recovery and reflection periods. The sole authority in granting this permission is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and we should remember that recovery and reflection periods and temporary periods of residence are immigration permissions and thus the authority for their grant is the same as for any other immigration permission. The Minister acts on foot of a Garda assessment as described already.
Whereas the assessment of whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that trafficking has taken place is made by a Garda superintendent, this does not mean that there is no role in the process for other organisations or individuals. On the contrary, it may well be the case that possible instances of trafficking will first be brought to the attention of these organisations, as I indicated with the figures provided. There is therefore a key role for those bodies or individuals to engage with the State authorities, and to do so at an early stage, so as to assist both in the investigation of the offence and also in the identification of potential victims of human trafficking.
For the potential victims themselves it is important that they are encouraged and supported in engaging with the authorities and in particular with the Garda National Immigration Bureau special unit. Everyone has a responsibility in this area and the input victim support agencies and others can have is extremely important.
I do not stand before the House and claim that everything we are doing in guarding against trafficking is perfect and needs no change. The phenomenon is relatively new to this jurisdiction and this is why I have stated in the national plan published today that it will be a living document, which will be kept under review and updated with regard to laws relevant to prostitution. It has been specially drafted to allow for flexibility in its recommendations and to adapt to challenges presented and evolve as our understanding, knowledge and practical experiences of human trafficking grows. Furthermore, a structured mid-term review of the plan will take place in connection with relevant stakeholders.
It is against this background that I contribute to this debate. I thank the Senators for contributing to it also and bringing the issue forward. We do not underestimate this problem in our country and we take it very seriously. I reject any suggestion to the contrary. I thank all the NGOs which participate in the contact with my Department and the other State agencies. This is the epitome of public and private bodies working intensely together. The new legislation, in force since 7 June, needs time to bed down but if any changes are required, I will make them.
I look forward to the speedy passage of the immigration Bill, which is significant legislation. As I have already noted, before that comes into place I have already positioned administrative arrangements to deal with the potential victims of human trafficking.
I do not want it to go out from this House or the Oireachtas that the Government is in any way indolent in its response to this issue. I have spoken to the Garda Commissioner on many occasions in regard to this issue, which is very serious, to ensure it is top of the agenda. In the policing plan issued some time ago by the Garda Síochána, I pushed an open door in having this as one of the key objectives for the Garda to deal with in conjunction with colleagues across the Border and on the neighbouring island. I thank Senators and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to speak on the matter.
Senator Ann Ormonde Senator Ann Ormonde
Senator Ann Ormonde: I welcome the Minister and the opportunity to have a discussion on this evil crime, which is a societal issue. We must do everything we can to prevent trafficking, protect potential victims and prosecute offenders. Some time ago I read an article in one of the daily newspapers which discussed human trafficking between Vietnam and Cambodia. It highlighted an example of how it was carried out, how the person described escaped and gave a detailed account of life under this regime of sex exploitation. If the person did not abide by the rules, she was physically abused. It was horrific to read her account of what happened. It was at that stage I knew this was a major issue and that we must do everything in our power to work towards stamping out the problem in this country.
Having read the Minister’s speech, I am glad he has introduced an action plan to protect victims. Measures within that action plan are helping to meet this objective. The Minister has taken positive steps in tackling the crime of trafficking human beings, including signing up to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings on 13 April 2007 and working towards its ratification this year.
The Government is committed to the ratification of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. This will take place when legislation to ratify the parent convention is enacted. Since signing the Council of Europe convention in April 2007, Ireland has made significant progress towards ratification with the enactment of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act which came into force on 7 June 2008 and which implements the criminal law aspects of the convention. The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 will provide for a period of recovery and reflection of 60 days for alleged victims of trafficking. In circumstances where the person trafficked wishes to assist the Garda in any investigation or prosecution of the alleged trafficking, a further six months will be made available to him or her. An administrative framework allows for a period of recovery, reflection and residency of 60 days in the State for any trafficking victims. This arrangement gives effect to Articles 13 and 14 of the convention.
With the co-operation of other Departments and NGOs, significant progress has been made on advancing the arrangements necessary to meet other obligations in the convention for the protection of victims. It is important that trafficking victims have suitable accommodation. I hope any of the instances of poor accommodation referred to by Senator Mullen are soon put right.
It is important those gardaí involved in combating human trafficking have sensitivity and understanding when dealing with victims. It was suggested there would be a conflict of interest for gardaí in dealing with the counselling aspect while implementing immigration laws. I see no difficulties arising in this area as gardaí are trained very well. Emphasis must be given to counselling those caught in human trafficking. Having some knowledge myself in dealing with problem children, victims and their cases must be treated sensitively with absolute understanding. A special unit should be established in the Department with well-trained professionals to deal with these cases. While I am glad the period of reflection for trafficking victims was increased to 60 days, it should not be strictly observed as each individual case could be very different. I always believe in a certain flexibility when it comes to timelines.
I am glad the Minister is keeping a close eye on developing other initiatives against human trafficking. While I quite like the phrase “Don’t close your eyes to human trafficking”, a greater awareness campaign is needed. Society must make it its responsibility to control the borders and work in co-operation with Northern Ireland, British police forces and other international organisations to combat this evil crime. It is important it is kept on the agenda. We owe that to the women who have found themselves subjected to this awful and evil crime.
Senator Jim Walsh Senator Jim Walsh
Senator Jim Walsh: The tabling of this Private Members’ motion has given us the opportunity not just to debate the issue but also examine the various initiatives taken to combat human trafficking. As the Minister said, human trafficking is an offence relatively new to our shores. As a result, we are tackling it with firsthand experience while examining best practice in other jurisdictions.
Some Members may recall the book Roots and its subsequent TV series which dealt with the slave trade from Africa to America in the 19th century. The central character, Kunta Kinte, was taken from the east coast of Africa as a slave to the United States and the book detailed his life and that of his progeny down to the author who was a direct descendant. Many of us, when we saw the series, were appalled such an uncivilised activity as slave trading occurred in the not-so-distant past.
A similar activity is now taking place in various parts of the world. Young women are being kidnapped or, under false pretences, being lured into various countries in western Europe for prostitution. Stories of the experiences of such girls have been reported in newspapers. The revulsion people feel towards this activity is reflected in the strong investigative and follow-on support arrangements that have been put in place. I am impressed by some of the initiatives taken by the Minister and his Department and their commitment in combating this problem. It is imperative we ensure these arrangements are under active and constant review so other measures can be identified and put in place when required.
I welcome the publication today of the national action plan to combat trafficking in human beings, which is an important step in the right direction. I also welcome and am sure the House will approve of the establishment by the Garda Síochána of a human trafficking investigation and co-ordination unit within the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB. I acknowledge that Senator Mullen has some reservations with regard to the unit being under the aegis of the GNIB. However, given that most of the young girls who are involved in trafficking are from abroad, there probably are significant benefits to and merit in its attachment to that unit.
The entire issue of child trafficking is a matter of concern to all Members and recent reports have demonstrated the protection of children must be kept at the top of their agenda. In this regard, Operation Snow, which is designed to prevent the trafficking of minors into, within and from the State and to ensure the welfare of such victims, is absolutely essential. One example of the success of that operation occurred within the last two years when a person who was suspected of involvement in the trafficking of children within a number of EU member states, and in the Netherlands in particular, was detected and has been removed to the Netherlands on foot of a European arrest warrant. I understand this person now awaits trial and this is the kind of important result that Members welcome. I will refer to another case that did not involve trafficking into the sex industry. Incidentally, like other Members, I dislike that phrase as it is a misnomer to refer to it as an industry. It is an area of criminal activity and should be regarded as such. However, a joint police trafficking investigation took place involving the Garda and police in Romania regarding trafficking for labour exploitation purposes and people were prosecuted in Romania as a consequence.
Action is taking place within this field and it is imperative to ensure that our legislative framework is designed and able to deal effectively with it. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 was extremely helpful in that regard by creating the offence of criminal trafficking for sexual or labour exploitation or for the removal of organs. Although the latter offence is something of which Ireland may not have experience, it is a highly unfortunate criminal activity within other jurisdictions. The penalty that can apply to anyone who is found guilty of committing such offences is up to life imprisonment. While ensuring one is not complacent in this regard, one should not dismiss the initiatives and legislative improvements that have been made. However, one must be constantly vigilant and I commend the Senators on tabling this motion, which highlights and creates the awareness to ensure we meet this ongoing challenge in an effective manner.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: I approve of the vast majority of this motion. I have followed this issue for a number of years and, together with other Members on both sides of the House, I have promoted a number of the motion’s recommendations for some years. I also have followed the work done by organisations such as Ruhama and from what I recall of its work, this motion appears to follow closely its requests to have certain aspects of the law amended to protect victims who in most cases are women and who are not given the proper, full protection of the law. I strongly support all these elements in this motion.
However, I do not support the final clause, which calls on the Government “to follow the lead of Sweden, Norway and Iceland by criminalising the purchase of sex so as to target the demand for the sex exploitation industry”. This is a recipe for disaster and is hypocritical. It is particularly hypocritical to use Sweden as an example because the very people who promoted this idea are the same people who, over the past ten, 20 or 30 years, used to point to Sweden and regard it as a godless Protestant country that had the highest rate of suicide in Europe. While this was rubbish, they got away with it. They now conveniently trail Sweden in front of Members’ noses as a bait because they think Members will jump simply because Sweden did it. However, those Members who have a slightly more sophisticated view of history will remember that among other things, Sweden supplied Hitler with ball bearings during the Second World War and has a serious problem with right-wing hooliganism. Simply because something happens in Sweden does not mean one should automatically gollop it down uncritically. The same is true if Norway and Iceland do the same thing.
In this matter, I am supported by no less than a great doctor of the church, namely, Thomas Aquinas. I am reliably informed of this by an acquaintance who is a leading member of the Iona Institute, who only today stated that he also would have difficulty with this on a practical basis. He pointed out that Thomas Aquinas had stated one must recognise that man was essentially vicious and that the legalisation of prostitution was the lesser of two evils. I hope no one will suggest that, in promoting this idea or at least suggesting it should be discussed, I am anti-Catholic as no one who supports Thomas Aquinas could be so regarded.
I make this point because I have sympathy with the unfortunate people who find themselves in prostitution. I remember well the day in this House — I believe it was in 1993 — when Máire Geoghegan-Quinn introduced legislation decriminalising homosexuality. As usual however, tacked onto it was something about prostitution. I always found that to be irritating because I did not find it flattering, as a respectable old fairy, to be everlastingly shackled to the tarts. On the other hand however, I stated then and continue to believe that I did not want to get my freedom at the expense of other marginalised elements in society.
I believe such people will be damaged further because prostitution will not stop. Does any Member actually think that prostitution will cease because legislation has been passed? As it has never happened anywhere in the last 4,000 or 5,000 years, why should it happen in holy Catholic Ireland? It beats me. Moreover, if these women are driven out of comparative security, they will be beaten to a pulp, will be infected and will infect other people. The right way is to consider this matter in an adult fashion and to provide some method of recognition and protection and to look after the health and safety interests of the women who work in this area. This may not be pleasant and I doubt whether any Member would welcome having a woman or man who worked in this area as a family member because one would feel pained and frightened on that person’s behalf. However, Members should not be hypocritical and should not pretend that by driving it underground or into places such as the Phoenix Park or down the docks and in back alleyways, that they will be doing anything for such women, because they most definitely will not. I do not give a damn what individual or organisation states this would help them because I disagree.
For that reason, and my view is completely consistent, it is not appropriate to criminalise those who pay for such services. I make this point from personal experience. For a number of years, there was a brothel in the basement next to me in North Great Georges Street. On one occasion when the woman was being beaten up, I was obliged to intervene and I protected her. I did not avail of her services but it was quite a moving experience because I encountered her as a human being and realised what was going on in that place. On a Saturday evening I often swept my step and I saw many people coming from there, some of whom were quite familiar names in Irish public life. While they got a hell of a shock on seeing me, I never have disclosed a single name and never would. These were professional people, some of whom were in religious professions. What about their families? What would be the point of dragging them through the courts and exposing their families to further hurt, embarrassment and shame?
Holland has not been mentioned so far in this debate because it has not taken the step proposed in this motion. The Dutch approach may appear radical and perhaps it is. Holland provides sexual relief for handicapped people as part of its national health system. That is startling at first, but I think it is wonderful. If one is deformed or disabled, if one feels one is unattractive or if one has some awful medical condition, it must be wonderful to be touched in an intimate way and given pleasure by another sympathetic human being. I cannot condemn it. I will not vote to approve the criminalisation of people in this way. It would be too easy. It would be too much of a luxury for those of us who are lucky to have or have had a happy and full, physical and intimate, sexual relationship, which is one of the greatest joys of being alive. I do not think it would be appropriate to deal with this sector by criminalising those involved in it. If we were to do so, we may regret it. We may think this activity is tawdry, shoddy and regrettable, we may think it is a pity that everybody cannot enjoy a fuller, more balanced and more harmonious relationship, but that does not mean we should drag those involved into court. Come on; let us grow up, for God’s sake.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca Senator Déirdre de Búrca
 Senator Déirdre de Búrca: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Curran. I congratulate Senator Mullen on tabling this coherent and intellectually well put together motion. He has argued that we need to strengthen this country’s human trafficking legislation, especially in so far as it relates to the sexual exploitation of women and children. I agree with the main point the motion seems to make, which is that human trafficking should be dealt with as part of Ireland’s immigration policy and practice, rather than within the sphere of organised crime. We have become accustomed to migration as a feature of the globalised world in which we live. The business of human trafficking, particularly the trafficking of women and children for sexual purposes, is part of the underbelly of that global trend. Human trafficking, which has correctly been referred to as modern-day slavery, is a form of transnational crime. It is appropriate to respond to it at international, European and national levels. This country has a responsibility to ensure its legislation is well thought through, robust and capable of tackling this form of crime.
While I agree with the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who said earlier in this debate that his three priorities are to prevent trafficking, protect victims and prosecute those responsible for trafficking, I remind him that part of the problem is the age-old issue of prostitution, which has been raised already. We need to consider whether we, as a modern society, should have a tolerant attitude towards the forms of prostitution and sexual services that are clearly available in our midst or should adopt an alternative attitude to them. I am on Senator Mullen’s side of the argument in the sense that I do not agree with Senator Norris that we should overlook the activities of the many respectable people who use these services and ignore the fact that many women are trafficked into this country to provide them. The women in question, who are often in a highly dependent and vulnerable position, are usually intimidated to the extent that they have little or no choice other than to participate in these activities. The kind of human degradation that is involved in providing these services means that, as a society, we cannot afford to continue to turn a blind eye to them. We should not suggest that it is okay that so many health and drug problems are associated with these activities. We should not suggest that it would be unfair to criminalise those who purchase sexual services rather than the providers of these services, who clearly are often victims, as it might be upsetting for them and their families if their activities were to be exposed. I agree with the arguments made by Senator Mullen in this regard.
I was present at the recent launch by the Immigrant Council of Ireland of its interesting report on the trafficking of women and children for sexual purposes. In the report, the council recommended that Ireland should follow the example set by Sweden when it criminalised the purchasing of sexual services. As Senator Mullen said, other Scandinavian countries, including Norway, have followed the Swedish example. The problem under discussion will persist until we do likewise. If we continue to treat it as an inevitable and inescapable problem that will never go away, we will continue to turn a blind eye to what is a large problem for society. I accept that society has an ambivalent attitude towards prostitution. More open debates of this nature are needed. We need to reflect on why we tolerate prostitution. The Immigrant Council of Ireland’s report pointed out that, as far as we know, one in ten men use prostitution services. Why is this the case? Given that we criminalise and prosecute those who often have little choice other than to provide these services, why do we not see anything wrong with the behaviour of such men?
The trafficking of women for the purposes of sexual exploitation is a multi-billion dollar business that helps to sustain organised crime. It is disturbing that there is evidence to suggest that organised criminal gangs in this country are helping international traffickers to establish trafficking routes in Ireland. There are links between the Irish sex industry and the Russian mafia. The growing presence of Russian and Albanian mafia members is of particular concern to the Garda. It has been alleged that gangs based in Estonia and Latvia have also trafficked women into Ireland. We cannot underestimate the importance of the legislation that has been put in place in this area. I admit that we were a little slow in producing the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. We were criticised for that. Ireland was given a tier 2 rating in a report on human trafficking that was produced by the US State Department. While the US did not see Ireland as one of the worst countries in this respect, it did not believe we were dealing with the issue of human trafficking in a satisfactory manner. It recognised we were making efforts, however.
The proposals outlined in Senator Mullen’s motion should be taken seriously and examined. The motion refers to the unfortunate and inappropriate decision to give “gardaí who police immigration laws . . . . the mandate to deal with victims of the crime of human trafficking“. I suggest that a special anti-human trafficking unit should be established and properly resourced and the gardaí working in it should be given appropriate training. Senator Mullen has suggested we should “extend the recovery and reflection period to three months“, which I think would be absolutely appropriate. I agree with him that the threshold for victims who co-operate with the Garda is “too high and too “”evidence-based“ in granting victims the recovery and reflection period”. I accept his contention that “it is traumatising for witnesses to testify in front of the accused and their associates”. We need to design processes that take all this into account. Our legislation needs to recognise that it is often difficult for victims to testify against those who have intimidated them and put them in vulnerable positions in which they are obliged to provide these services.
I agree with Senator Mullen that gardaí should receive “specialised training” and that “a joint investigation unit” should be established “to police human trafficking on the island of Ireland”. He is right to say that we should “extend the recovery and reflection period to three months”, “commit to granting the six-month temporary residency permit immediately to victims when they begin co-operating with the criminal investigation”, provide for “the option of giving evidence by video and testifying in court by video link”, promote “exit routes to enable women to move out of prostitution” and, most importantly, “follow the lead of Sweden, Norway and Iceland by criminalising the purchase of sex so as to target demand in the sex exploitation industry”, rather than targeting the victims. We really need to give consideration to the latter proposal.
Senator Rónán Mullen Senator Rónán Mullen
Senator Rónán Mullen: I thank all those who spoke, including the Minister of State and Senators O’Toole, O’Donovan, Regan, Ormonde, Walsh, Norris and de Búrca. I regret, however, there were not more speakers given the importance of the issue. The Labour Party’s women’s group, in particular, has concerns very similar to mine. I am disappointed there was no representation from the Labour Party on this issue although it may have been due to circumstances beyond its control.
I thank Senator Regan for his insights. I explicitly agree with him on the importance of decriminalising the seller, namely, the prostitute. This is what has happened in Sweden and it would make sense here, not least because it would increase the likelihood of victims co-operating with the Garda, for example. Furthermore, doing so would recognise and put in its proper context the actual position of the person in prostitution who, to use patronising but traditional language, is much more to be pitied than condemned. The reality is that those who traffic such people and those who provise them as pimps are the real evildoers on that side of the equation. Those who avail of the so-called services of persons in prostitution both abuse and exploit those persons and perpetuate this ugly reality in our society.
In a general sense, I acknowledge much of what the Minister announced regarding the action plan. A lot of good is being done that I would not want to dispute but I felt that even as he was correcting us as though we were unaware of what was being done, it was coming across that there was and is a failure to consult. It may well make sense in one way that immigration gardaí would deal with the matter but, in another way, it is entirely inappropriate given the terror of law enforcement officers that may be experienced by those who have been trafficked into this country and who already have been abused and exploited. They are on the wrong side of the law to begin with in many cases because of their immigration status.
Let us, therefore, ignore party political considerations and try for a moment to empathise with those concerned and understand their circumstances. Doing so will explain why there is a need for the Government and those in authority to consult and involve the agencies that have walked the lonely journey with people in prostitution and those who have been trafficked. They should be involved in assessing why there is only a short waiting period of a number of days in Britain to avail of the relevant recovery and reflection mechanism. Only a handful of people in Ireland have been able to avail of it thus far. Why is there no quick recourse to it? One reason is that there is no consultation. Those who befriend those who have been trafficked are not incorporated into the process.
Many interesting and provocative points were made by Senators. I was particularly impressed by Senator O’Toole’s excellent points on the way in which language gets sanitised. We use terms such as “sex worker” and people refer to prostitution as “the oldest profession”. Let us get one thing very clear, there is no such thing as choosing to be in prostitution, as one will realise when one considers both the circumstances in which women in prostitution find themselves and their background. When one considers factors such as dire economic necessity and low self-esteem, which possibly arise because the prostitutes may have been abused sexually and physically throughout their lives, it makes no sense to talk glibly about some of them choosing to be in the business to make money. Even if there are some at the so-called high end of the profession who make money, we should not forget that they probably spend that money on a drug habit or on other problems in their very disordered and tragic lives.
Let me refer to what Senator Norris said. He was rising like Pavlov’s dog to try to see in this motion some kind of traditional Catholic-inspired piece of prudery. What we are talking about is protecting the vulnerable in society. It does not matter whether one is a card-carrying atheist, a Jehovah’s Witness or a Buddhist, one should be able to recognise that. It is a perversion of logic and humanity to pretend that concern for those in prostitution is what actuates the viewpoint that we should not criminalise the user. In what other walk of life where we see an evil do we refuse to target those who participate in and avail of it? In respect of drink driving and smoking, which seem trivial by comparison, we actively seek to educate. The law itself is a teacher and even if it is never enforced, it has a deterrent effect. This is why there was a reduction in prostitution when the criminalisation of the user was introduced in Sweden in 1999. In addition, there was only a marginal increase in trafficking at a time when the number trafficked into places such as Finland amounted to thousands. The number trafficked into Sweden amounted only to hundreds.
I am sorry that Senator Norris chose the emotive case of the person in disability to try to justify the continuing legality of purchasing a person for sex. He seems not to understand the denial of the dignity of the person in prostitution. He seems not to understand that by continuing with that legalisation, one creates extraordinarily negative attitudes among men towards women. One sends out a powerful message to the next generation that women may be purchased for one’s gratification. That is the reverse of what a civilised society should aspire to and it is on that basis that I will be voting against the amendment.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 15.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Senator Donie Cassidy Senator Donie Cassidy
Senator Donie Cassidy: Ag 10.30 maidin amárach.
Seanad Éireann 195 Human Trafficking: Motion.