Seanad debates

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Human Trafficking and Prostitution: Motion


6:00 pm

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I support the motion tabled by what one might call the Independent Senators on the Government side. I fully respect and pay tribute to the work done by the Turn off the Red Light campaign. Moreover, when the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 passed through this House, I expressed to the then Minister my reservations that while the legislation was welcome, it did not go far enough. I was briefed by Ruhama at least twice before and during the passage of that Act through the House and it was with a heavy heart that, under the Whip, I walked through the Government lobby to bring into law the Act in its existing form. It is now time to revisit this issue. I do not wish to make a political play out of this and I respect the bona fides of the Minister of State. However, a significant case has been put forward by Senator Zappone and others, as well as by Senator Power, on where this issue is going. It is a kind of myth that this issue is new and a rethink is required. While I accept a co-ordinated approach must be taken to the subject, the entire area of prostitution, the plight of prostitutes and of sex for sale is at least 5,000 or 6,000 years old and has been well debated before this.

As for the trafficking of human beings and their unfortunate situations, I am given to understand by some NGO groups that in Ireland, a substantial number of the women who are involved regrettably have been brought from outside of Ireland from eastern Europe, Africa or wherever. In the case of some, I am unsure whether they are here of their own free will, etc. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 prohibited the purchase of sex from a trafficked person and it is time to examine the whole area of strict liability, which the then Minister trotted out at the time, and the advice of the Attorney General. While I do not blame the Minister of State, the legislation should be framed such that there should be a prima facie case against someone caught purchasing sex, mainly men. It would then be up to that person in a court of law to rebut that prima facie case being put by the prosecution - it might not need to be absolute. In that regard the man in question, who might be married or single, would need to explain in court to his wife, partner, daughter, mother or sister what had gone on. That in itself would certainly bring a fresh dimension to the whole area. I would say to the Turn off the Red Light campaign, Ruhama and others that they have achieved a considerable amount in even educating people such as us in the past decade. Whether it is today's motion or otherwise, this is another tightening of the belt, so to speak, on this appalling situation. If they do not turn off the red light, they will certainly dim it severely and they must be encouraged to work in that direction, although we may never have a utopian situation.

Senator Bacik mentioned that the CC case was not entirely to her liking as a barrister. There is a strong view within the Bar Council and senior lawyers that the CC case if revisited in the High Court or the Supreme Court, if it is a constitutional case, might come to a different view. Perhaps a test case is needed as I believe the view expounded by the court in the CC case could and should be revisited. Law is not as permanent as a block of concrete; it evolves and changes, and precedent can evolve again. The Minister of State should not get totally bogged down. I know she must respect the Attorney General's views and advice, which imposes constraints. We can go a long way down the road in legislation to try to accept what has been set down in the Independent Senators' views. We should not be afraid of another challenge in the courts. If legislation is introduced and challenged, it might come as no great surprise to certain people that, if challenged in a test case in two, three or five years, it might be revoked.

As the justice spokesman on this side, I support the motion and if there is to be a division I will certainly vote with the Independent group. I thank my colleague Senator Power for leading off from this side of the House. I am here to support this appropriate and important motion. I laud the Independent group for tabling it. I do not want to be political and I understand the Minister of State is anxious to revisit the issue. However, time is of the essence and we have wasted too much time in the past decade on the issue.


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