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 Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

The Senator will have an opportunity in the coming weeks when the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2023 comes before the House. More broadly, I thank colleagues for their support of this motion in order that we can opt-in at the earliest stage. When we opt-in early, it means we can shape the regulation and we can be as involved from the earliest stage possible. I accept and thank the support of colleagues for that.

More broadly, there is a lot more we need to be doing on human trafficking. We are at tier 2. I intend that we move off and away from that and there are a number of ways we can do that. Most importantly, it is by passing the new legislation I have just referenced which will put the new national referral mechanism on a statutory footing. At the moment, the only competent authority and the only route for people who are trafficked or smuggled into this country is through An Garda Síochána. Many people, as Senator Ward pointed to, come from countries where they do not feel safe going to their police services so why would they when they come here. They do not have other routes to go down and that is why we have so few people coming forward and so few prosecutions. We have had three people prosecuted. They were the first prosecutions in this country back in 2021. Obviously, I hope this will a sign of things to come but in order for prosecutions to take place, we need victims to come forward, we need to have that evidence and we need to support the gardaí in doing that.

The new national referral mechanism will allow other competent authorities to become voices and places of safe haven for people to come forward. They will include the HSE, the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Protection and many of the voluntary and community organisations that work with people who are trafficked, where people will be able to go and seek help and support. In parallel with that legislation, we have, in consultation with all the relevant stakeholders, developed a new human trafficking strategy. A key part of that strategy is training. It is really important when we designate the competent authorities that there be training. As colleagues have mentioned, health and social care professionals will be included in that training, as well as anybody else who they feel might come into contact with trafficked people. That is not to say this is not happening at all currently. It is the case, particularly working with the likes of IOM, which is a wonderful organisation. There is training taking place with airlines and through freight and transport carriers in our ports, in particular, with the hospitality sector where we have identified this as a key area of risk and with our security services. We have public awareness raising campaigns and specific days highlighting it throughout the year. However, we want this to be maintained at a level where people are aware of it. People are not fully aware of the extent to which people are trafficked into this country. The vast majority are women and children who are trafficked for sexual exploitation but there are also people who are forced into labour. As Senator O'Reilly rightly said, they are in plain sight but we do not see them in the way that we should. It is about increasing awareness. We have to invest more in it but also make sure the legal mechanisms and the structures are there so that victims feel confident in coming forward. That will be addressed with the legislation.

I hope that will enable us to move off tier 2 but most importantly that victims come forward and we have prosecutions at the end of the day. By having prosecutions, a country is less of a draw to those who wish to exploit the situation or those who are most vulnerable. There is a lot of work happening in this space. It is important we can work together to make sure we achieve the overall objective here. The motion here today is about codifying much of the work that takes place already. It is about making sure that information sharing and work exchanging between An Garda Síochána and agencies is happening. It is about making sure we prosecute those who are responsible and that we support victims at every step of the way. I look forward to working with colleagues as we progress all of the other measures I have just outlined.


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