Wednesday, 1 December 2021
Criminal Justice (Smuggling of Persons) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Committee Stage (Resumed)
This is a very basic amendment and I would think the Minister of State would accept it. It is a factual amendment and we are asking that on an annual basis, the Minister would lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas detailing "(a) the number of prosecutions not pursued due to a humanitarian defence". I will come back to this, as it speaks to the matter that the Minister of State has spoken to. The report would also detail:
(b) the number of prosecutions pursued where a humanitarian defence was employed, and
(c) any impact which this Act may have had in respect of the level of engagement of humanitarian organisations in humanitarian activity in respect of smuggled persons.
The Minister of State has said he does not envisage that the defence would be necessary because there would be no prosecutions and he has the utmost trust in the director or prosecutions, whoever that is or may be in the future. He does not believe anybody will be charged if they are acting for bona fide humanitarian reasons or if it is a humanitarian organisation.
I speak directly to this point now. If the Minister of State believes that, he should have absolutely no trouble with this amendment because we are seeking to have evidence about how this Act will be implemented and whether it will have the chilling effect on humanitarian organisations on the ground, indicated in paragraph (c) of the amendment. I have already quoted the European Commission communication and have referred to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in this regard. I have mentioned the reported experience from organisations on the ground where there has been a chilling effect from the interpretation of the directive and decision we are seeking to implement with this. Put very simply, perhaps I could stop talking if the Minister of State indicates he is in agreement with the amendment. He is shaking his head. I am not sure what is the problem with an annual report being laid before the Houses on the number of prosecutions not pursued due a humanitarian defence.
I can go some of the way, on reflection, in respect of what the Minister of State has said about how we must bring in this legislation because there have been so few prosecutions under the existing legislation, which is inadequate and now 21 years old. If I go that far and accept the argument that we need stronger recommendations, the Minister of State must accept that we should see evidence every year on the number of prosecutions brought or not brought due to a humanitarian reason. I am not sure how long I have left.