Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 April 2024

EU Regulations (Police Co-operation on Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Human Beings): Motion


9:30 am

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach. I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Aire as an bpost atá fós aici. Ba mhaith liom freisin fáilte a fhearadh roimh an rún seo ón ngrúpa Fhine Gael. There is nothing in this motion that we should be afraid of. It makes absolute sense to opt into this measure. Unfortunately, Ireland has not been a champion in dealing with human trafficking. We have already been identified as a tier two country and we have work to do to make sure that we are not seen as a target for the organised criminal groups of which the Minister speaks. We need to ensure that when somebody is trafficked here, An Garda Síochána is on top of it and able to respond in a way that, first and foremost, identifies such people and then that the system is equipped to deal with the situation that is identified.

We do not have a good record and sometimes we do not realise just how pervasive this problem is. We are aware of the tragedy and deaths the Minister mentioned, which have touched people in this country, including deaths in containers arriving in Rosslare. They are ones we know about but there are so many people who are trafficked into this country that we do not know about. They are working in what is essentially modern-day slavery, be it in client-facing roles or otherwise. That is something that must be tackled. We cannot imagine the damage that human trafficking does, not only to the people involved but to our whole society. When people exist in our society in the background and in the shadows it damages us all and that is why this is so important. We need to take action. We know that action to date has not been sufficiently strong. My understanding is that in the seven years up to 2020, 471 trafficking victims were identified but not a single conviction has arisen from those identifications. We know that it is happening and yet, when it has been identified, the criminal justice system appears to be ill equipped or incapable of securing convictions of the people involved. Trafficked victims do not come here on their own. They are trafficked, by definition, and when they come here, they end up living in awful conditions. I recently heard about a person who was expected to work for 50 hours per week for €200. That person was essentially a modern-day slave and that is happening all over Ireland.

One of the things we are not doing enough of is educating people about how to spot victims of trafficking because the chances are that all of us have encountered them, unwittingly, in our daily lives. We are not equipped with the skills, whether as customers or as fellow employees, to be aware that people are in such a situation. One thing that has been called for time and again is training or an awareness campaign to enable people to spot the signs of trafficking, to identify people who are in that awful position and to take steps. If they do take steps, where do they go? They go to An Garda Síochána but can we also set up a national hotline to support that? There should be a confidential number for people to use. We already have the Garda confidential line, which people could use, but I am talking about a hotline that is dedicated to human trafficking issues. It would be a number that anybody could call for advice or assistance but also, most importantly, to report something suspicious. People who are trafficked here do not necessarily come from countries where the police are trusted so they do not feel that they can come forward to An Garda Síochána because the consequences of doing that might be even more dire. They might get sent back to a place where their life would be in danger. We need to educate those people as well so they can see that An Garda Síochána is there to help not hinder them. Gardaí are there to help them out of a situation that is untenable and appalling.

This motion on opting in to this protocol is really important and I cannot think of any reason Members of this House would oppose it. It is an instrument that is designed to better equip us with the tools we need to do exactly what I have just been talking about, namely identify the victims of trafficking and deal with it in the proper way within the criminal justice system to ensure the victim is supported and the perpetrator is brought to justice. That is hugely important. When we do not do that, the system fails. When we do not bring the traffickers to justice, they feel they can act with impunity. They will do it again and again and the more they get away with it or feel they can get away with it, the more it will happen. If we want to move out of that list of tier two countries, we need to deal effectively with trafficking. If we avail of all of the options listed by the Minister, including greater powers and funding for Europol, greater inter-agency actions around the EU and greater assistance from our colleagues in Europe, we will start to solve this problem. This is the way we can move out of tier two and say to the victims of the awful act of trafficking that we are here to support them, solve their problems and bring the perpetrators to justice. In that way we can send out a very clear message that this country does not tolerate human trafficking.


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