Wednesday, 1 December 2021
Criminal Justice (Smuggling of Persons) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I understand the position the Minister of State is putting forward. He gave the example of a person from Libya or another such country coming here and being able to make the defence that he or she had been working for a humanitarian organisation, a defence that cannot be verified. Consider the case of a family from Africa who have been in Ireland for several years and learn of a relative in danger in their home country. It could be a child in danger of female genital mutilation. Let us say the family try to assist family or relatives in the country in question to take the child out of the area, perhaps through a humanitarian organisation, or the semblance of one, that helps in that regard. The organisation would not be recognised as a humanitarian organisation in the country in question because the very thing it is trying to protect the child from would not be considered a problem there in the way it would be in most parts of Europe. If the family assist the child, what they do could be presented as a defence, but it could also be considered an offence under this legislation. That is the difficulty that all of us are trying to get to. We can build up all kinds of hypothetical scenarios in which something like this happens.
Rushed law can cause problems. We have all come back to this Chamber on numerous occasions to go through situations that happened with the best of intentions and to find there were difficulties with them. At the same time, we have to find a way to ensure that the people who engage in this type of activity are identified and prevented from doing it again in the first instance, if at all possible, but certainly punished for doing it when they are caught. The Minister of State's point that membership of a humanitarian organisation may be used as a defence, an opt-out or a get-out-of-jail card by a smuggler may have some validity but, on the contrary, we would not want to criminalise a person doing something for a very good reason and with passion and humanity, perhaps for a relative or loved one he or she is trying to get out of a dangerous situation. It would be a terrible tragedy if we were to bring in a law which would in any way allow that to happen. While I accept that the DPP may at all times do his or her best, and with the best of intentions, mistakes are made. If we can at all, we need to make law which does not allow for those types of mistakes to be made. They could have detrimental consequences for a family or, as Deputy Connolly said when reading from the European Commission's report, may have a chilling effect on people attempting to do the right thing. We do not want that to happen either.