Dáil debates

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]


4:55 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I was co-opted to Wexford Corporation. That might be it. I have had many anniversaries since and I have served in many positions. I thank the Minister of State for recalling whatever anniversary it is. It gives me another cause for celebration tonight.

I thank the Minister of State for his very detailed response to the Bill. It is modelled on how the Government in 1996, of which I was a member - another anniversary - looked at doing something that was very radical at the time, namely, instituting CAB, so that we could remove from criminals the fruit of their criminality. In cases where it was often difficult to bring extensive criminal cases, we looked at where you saw somebody with no means of support but with great wealth. There was extensive debate at the time about the constitutionality of the legislation, but it has worked and it has been a most effective instrument. It was Ruairí Quinn's idea, who was Minister for Finance at the time. It has been a most effective device.

The Minister of State spoke of the extraterritorial - a lovely word - application of the CAB. We had to apply it extraterritorially because many of our own domestic criminals have significant assets, especially in Spain and the Netherlands. We amended the legislation subsequently to do that.

We need to have the same broad scope thinking in relation to world affairs and not be captured by this notion that we cannot act in an extraterritorial fashion. Of course we can, in limited circumstances. In recent weeks we dealt with legislation on people smuggling and we enacted legislation that has impact beyond our jurisdiction. We need that approach in the case we are discussing here. It is the approach followed by the UK and it is an effective approach. The Minister of State is suggesting we can take sanctions on an EU-wide basis but that does not meet the requirements. The EU has to act in consort against individual issues. I am talking about where there are assets in the State that are owned by someone who we know is a human rights violator, who is often involved in everything from genocide to exploitation on a massive scale, and that we would have in our own jurisdiction and our own authority the power to act against them. That is what we need.

I thank the Minister of State for his constructive contribution and thoughtful presentation. However, he should not rest because the EU is doing something already on that. We need in our jurisdiction to have our laws sharp enough, particularly because we are a growing financial services centre. Many billions of euro flow through Dublin city. I have been fearful in recent times whether we have the capacity within our own financial services regulation and oversight to manage all of that in an effective way, but that is a different argument for a different day. Certainly, where it is brought to our attention and we are clear in the knowledge that assets are the result of exploitation and human misery, we must have the capacity to act against them and provide a day in court for anyone who wants to rebut that, as we do with criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act in our domestic affairs.

I hope the normal approach of thanking the Deputy for his or her great effort, that it will be got to in due course, and that the Government has a different set of ideas will not bury this important legislation. It is important for us and I think there is an ambition for this in the House. I think the debate would normally have attracted many more speakers were it not for the lateness of the hour and the lateness in the term. I thank the Minister of State for his attention to the Bill. I hope that once it passes Second Stage, we will see progress on it in the course next year. I and my colleagues who have great experience, such as Professor Bacik, will be able to lend support to that endeavour.

I conclude by wishing the Ceann Comhairle and all the members of staff a very peaceful and happy Christmas. I apologise for this last item of business delaying them for the few minutes it did.


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