Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the introduction of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill, which is much needed legislation, particularly as human trafficking is recognised as the third most lucrative international crime after drugs and arms trafficking. Ireland is one of the richest countries in Europe and is a tempting destination for human traffickers. It is important to enact legislation to curb this phenomenon. The Minister estimates that up to 100 people are trafficked into Ireland every year, based on the Ruhama report published in 2007. It is generally acknowledged that the figure could be double that.
While it is important for victims' rights to be protected, there has been an interesting debate on whether this Bill is the correct method to do so. It may not be the correct place for some of the rights under discussion. I must air the concern that, if victims are given residential status based on co-operating with the prosecution of traffickers, it may undermine their human rights and put successful prosecutions in jeopardy if witnesses have been given incentives such as temporary residence permits or social welfare to give evidence against alleged perpetrators. This was recognised by the Minister as creating a danger of evidence being contaminated due to the incentives offered to witnesses and preventing an effective prosecution. Members of my party and of the Government parties have referred to this. I wish to hear the Minister address this in replying to the debate on Second Stage.
The Minister has concerns about putting victims' protection into prosecutorial law. I recognise that individuals involved in trafficking have the right to be protected. It is important that this is addressed in legislation, whether in this Bill or another. If this is to be addressed in another item of legislation we would like to know the timeframe for it. It should be very speedy if not dealt with in this Bill.
I have done research on unaccompanied and separated children coming into Ireland. I interviewed many of these children in the hostels in which they were staying. I was horrified at the vulnerability of these young people. I note with distress that many young people who entered Ireland unaccompanied were placed in hostels and have disappeared. Serious questions must be raised about the level of care we give these people and the follow-up undertaken. The Garda Síochána is involved in trying to track these people but I have no doubt some of them have been trafficked into prostitution. We must pay far more attention to this area. The children face risks from predators. We must pay far more attention to how they are looked after when they arrive in the country. They are under threat of being lured into abusive relationships or the sex industry.
Legislation alone will not improve the conditions of these minors who are the victims of trafficking. It is important that the providers of social services are aware of the varied needs of these young people and set up proper services. The study with Ms Pauline Conroy of Ralaheen Limited, who has done much work in this area, showed that the young children were not receiving the level of care and services needed. A more co-ordinated approach is needed between the HSE, various service providers and the Garda Síochána. There is no point in recognising the rights of these victims unless we provide for the rights on a practical level.
The objective of this Bill is to put traffickers out of business and, by doing so, to protect the human rights of the victims of trafficking. It is important the Bill is enacted in order that we can ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. This will enable a Europe-wide battle against the trafficking of humans. I hope the Government did not weaken its hand when it opted out of the justice elements of European co-operation. I ask the Minister to address this when he returns to the House. Europe-wide action is needed to deal with this topic.
An important aspect of the battle against trafficking is similar to the battle against drugs, namely, demand. Fine Gael tabled an amendment to extend criminal liability to those who used trafficked prostitutes. It was apparently accepted by the Minister. One consequence of limiting demand may be to drive the industry underground. If we are serious about reducing the demand for trafficked persons we must examine issues such as the various arenas of adult entertainment and lap dancing clubs. The community's wishes must be taken into account. Where these arenas flourish, one creates a market for sex trafficking. We have seen what has happened in Holland, a country with liberal policies in respect of these practices. That country is recognised as an international hub for paedophilia and sex trafficking.
Prostitution is not a criminal offence in Ireland but there is a battery of laws regulating the advertising and management of prostitution and attempting to prevent public nuisance from the activities of prostitutes. These laws do not address the demand for sexual services and the criminalisation of sexual acts and thus the women engaged in prostitution are criminialised while the men who use the services are not.
By criminialising those who use trafficked prostitutes, this Bill goes some way to redressing the balance in our prostitution laws. These must be examined to combat the veritable sex industry that is emerging. We need joined-up thinking. We must examine human trafficking, drugs and prostitution, all of which are run by criminals. One activity provides the cash to fuel another. A lax attitude to any of these activities can cause a problem in other areas. While the Bill aims to tackle those involved in human trafficking, the Government must realise that as long as drug lords and brothel owners are allowed to operate in Ireland and reap massive profits, there always will be a demand for trafficked persons, whether for the importation of drugs or for the sex industry. Much work must be done and the legislation must examine the definitions that are required for the Bill, such as that of pornography.
The Minister commented that the issue of victims' rights will be addressed in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill but I urge him not to rely solely on that Bill to protect the victims of trafficking, as it only deals with non-EEA nationals. It should be recognised that many victims have been trafficked from within the EU and they and their families also face many problems. Many people have been trafficked into this country under false pretences from eastern Europe.
We must examine also the deceit involved at the outset of a trafficking itinerary, often by a person of the same background, village or milieu. The trafficker gains the trust of the victim only to deceive him or her or their parents in the long term. This deceit is intrinsic to the Palermo Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and I urge that the Bill be amended to include the words "deceitfully induces" as an offence. In fact, there was a horrific description in one of last Sunday's newspapers of the situation of a young woman who had been trafficked in this way. She was brought to this country through deceit and kept in captivity. She escaped and was lucky enough to be helped by a woman who brought her to a police station. We must bear in mind that some of the victims of trafficking are from within the European Union and look after them as well.
Traffickers intentionally confuse and disorientate victims so they will be less likely to escape from their situation. Irish social services, health services and gardaí must be trained to watch for the symptoms of abuse and be aware of those who are at risk. This goes beyond what is in the legislation but solving this problem cannot be done through legislation alone. Recognising that there is a problem is the first step towards creating a solution. This legislation will be effective in prosecuting those involved in trafficking.
One matter should be mentioned before I conclude. In the matter of the sale of children, it is important that the Bill recognises the role of intermediaries in cases of inter-country adoption, particularly in light of the recent judgments of Justice McMenamin in regard to the case of Tristan Dowse. The Bill should be amended to include the charging of transaction costs which are beyond what is reasonable to incur to comply with adoption administrative provisions in the State. Enacting and implementing this legislation effectively will not only reduce the potential for trafficking minors but will also prevent citizens of Ireland from being taken advantage of in the course of trying to adopt foreign children. This is an area that has not been greatly discussed in this country but we should examine it. Perhaps the Minister will comment on the inter-country adoption issue where in fact it does amount to the sale of children. It is a difficult and tricky area but it is one we must examine.
I commend the thrust of the Bill and I hope the Minister will consider the additions I have recommended. I urge him to introduce legislation urgently to ensure the rights of all victims of trafficking are recognised and protected under Irish law. This Bill must be seen as just one facet of the strategy against human trafficking. It is important that we take a multifaceted approach to this problem which must include the welfare and rights of victims as well as the education of present and future victims.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power. Any legislation that helps to protect the most vulnerable in society must be embraced wholeheartedly and, in that regard, I welcome the broad objectives of the Bill. Organised criminal gangs make substantial profits from the exploitation of poor people, both young and old. Organised crime across Europe and the world simply uses human beings as commodities. It sees people as a means of making profit and has no regard for human rights. The people involved in such crimes are devoid of scruples or morals. Ireland must take a stand and play a part in smashing these criminal gangs. It must do its best to eliminate human trafficking in Ireland and across Europe. I look forward to this country ratifying the Council of Europe convention which deals with victim protection.
We also must consider carefully how to protect the victim on a practical level, such as through legal and translation services, accommodation and so forth. The most important aspect of protecting the victim is a focused approach to child trafficking. Ireland and its people are known worldwide as a nation and a people that care for the vulnerable, poor and needy. We should strive to be an example to the world in how seriously we take the problem of the exploitation of human beings, especially women and children. Legislation is required but real action must follow. We must make Ireland a country where criminal gangs know they cannot operate and a country that continues to be known as being to the fore in the protection of human rights.
The problem of human trafficking, particularly child trafficking, must be a priority for the Government. The EU estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide. A portion of them would be in Europe and would have crossed our shores. These children are mainly from poorer nations, such as those in the old Soviet bloc, eastern Europe and Africa. Legislation and enforcement will undoubtedly help but the Government must also consider how to tackle the root causes and the economic reasons for the prevalence of human trafficking in poorer nations. In that regard, we must continue to improve Irish Government foreign aid further.
I support many aspects of this Bill, including the provision on consent. The issue of consent leads to uncertainty because it is difficult to prove. Women did not give consent to their recruiters if they were lured under the pretext that faraway hills are green and they would have a rosy life and great earning potential in Ireland. Little did they know they were being introduced to seedy, grubby apartments or bedsits in which they were told to ply their trade and give their money to their pimp or recruiter. They are debased and abused hourly and if their earnings are not high enough, they are further dehumanised and debased. Consent is a difficult issue but I believe no consent is given in such instances.
The problem of trafficking is significant but is largely opaque. The Minister stated there were 76 reported cases but I do not believe that is the true number. Who reports such incidents? If a woman manages to escape, is she free from the fear of being caught again by her recruiter who would make her undergo further awful debasement? While I accept that the figure of 76 cases in seven years was given to the Minister by his officials in good faith, I do not believe it reflects the true number. The fear felt by a woman when approaching a garda is significant. I therefore caution against believing trafficking is very rare. Although 76 cases are 76 too many, I believe there are even more. The problem is opaque and I do not know how it can be made less so.
Article 26 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings proposed a non-punishment provision but it has not been included in this legislation. I hope it will be entertained by the Minister. Members are aware of the case of a woman who was incarcerated in Mountjoy Prison simply because she was trafficked into the country. She was under the cloud of having committed a crime but she committed none. The crime was on the part of the person who procured her for the purpose of prostitution. We should examine also the issue of temporary residence permits for women and children who need to stay in Ireland.
I commend the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on introducing this Bill so soon after the formation of the new Government. It demonstrates the importance of the issue. I am concerned, however, that the Bill does nothing to change the law whereby those who are trafficked can be jailed or deported. Why is that? It is a most awful experience for a human being to be trafficked. It is proposed that women can be jailed or deported for the crime of having been trafficked. When the Minister and his officials review the comments in today's debate, I hope they will consider tabling amendments to address this aspect of the Bill. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill aims to outlaw sex with trafficking victims. Using the sexual services of a victim of human trafficking, therefore, is to be criminalised. That is to be welcomed but it is confusing and the provision does not go far enough.
It is not currently a crime in Ireland to pay a prostitute for sex. That must change. If we are to make any impact on combating prostitution and human trafficking within the sex industry, we must target the demand for such services and outlaw the act of paying for sexual services. We must clarify the law on brothel keeping and advertising prostitution — the area in which human trafficking thrives. It is illegal to run a brothel and advertise prostitution services in the State. Why can we not close down the websites which peddle the services of prostitutes and advertise the apartments and hotels where these services can be engaged? These websites are fuelling the trafficking and brothel-keeping industry. We cannot close down the websites apparently because their domain names are .com, not .ie. However, the pimps who use these sites are often in Ireland, collecting the money from the prostitutes, running brothels and trafficking women, so why can they not be arrested?
The reason arrests are not being made is that Ireland does not have a dedicated vice squad to police our makeshift legislation. The Garda National Immigration Bureau does great work, as does the Garda domestic violence unit, but the Garda does not have a designated, dedicated vice squad. The immigration bureau and the domestic violence unit must deal with their particular areas and issues, which are issues the House will debate on another day. There have been many cosmetic exercises over the years in this area, with the Garda setting up task forces and operations to combat the problem of human trafficking and prostitution.
I welcome the aspects of the Bill which set up the high level group, which will include representatives of the Garda Síochána and relevant Departments, which is to draw up an action plan. That notwithstanding, we need a serious vice squad forthwith to combat prostitution and sex slavery in this country. This is a vicious, insidious area which is cash rich and drugs ridden, where women and children are trafficked in to work as prostitutes in our apartments and hotels. As I speak, hundreds of prostitutes are working around Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway, and other towns and cities across Ireland. We either take this problem seriously and outlaw prostitution properly and police it properly with a vice squad, or we legalise the area. At present, it is a grey area and this Bill does not clarify it in any regard. It is clear that we need to ban it outright and be serious on the matter.
The public perception of prostitution in Ireland also needs to be considered. Only one newspaper has consistently reported on the issue, exposing the pimps and criminals of the underworld who operate brothels and traffic women and children, namely the Sunday World. We need to acknowledge that but we need to call on the other arms of the media to do the same type of work and change the public's perception of this issue in conjunction with policing it properly.
As legislators, we are responsible for ensuring those who engage in the trafficking of other human beings can be caught. Our duty is to ensure no aspect of human trafficking is allowed to continue so that it becomes one of the forms of evil we leave behind in the early days of this new century. The best way to do this is to outlaw the purchasing of sexual services in Ireland. Subject to the above, I commend the thrust of the Bill to the House.
In the short time available to me I want to concentrate on some points relating to this Bill. First, I am concerned that the terms of section 5, which criminalises the trafficking of persons other than children, may not be sufficiently broad to catch the situation where people engage in or facilitate the trafficking of persons who may consent to enter the country of their own accord, perhaps voluntarily in the belief that, whatever their experiences in their home countries, life could be better in Ireland. I mean that in the case of exploitation within the sex industry or in terms of labour.
I share the concerns raised by others about the failure of the Bill to meet the needs of victims of human trafficking by prescribing in the necessary detail the rights and benefits of which they should be allowed to avail. The Minister argued he would deal with victim protection under the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill and cannot deal with it in the current Bill as it could be seen as an incentive for a victim to testify and be used by the defence, but the provisions in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill that a victim of trafficking would be allowed a period of recovery and reflection and that there would be a discretion to give a visa of six months of temporary residence for victims of trafficking do not go far enough. What about provisions such as social welfare? Victims may be too traumatised to work for a period. What about access to medical and psychological assistance? These issues are not covered in the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill. The residence provision will be of assistance only to trafficked persons from outside the European Economic Area. There is no provision for the wider needs of trafficked persons, whether from inside or outside the EEA.
I am also concerned by the failure of the Bill to provide that victims of trafficking will not be punished, either for being in the State illegally or for offences, for example, those associated with prostitution. I accept we do not want to create a loophole that would be exploited by persons who are not victims of trafficking, but it should be possible to provide the necessary protection. It would be anomalous if people who are victims of trafficking could be liable to prosecution while those who would avail of their services get off scot free.
This brings me to the fact that on Report Stage in the Dáil the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, gave an undertaking, in response to contributions from Deputies Pat Rabbitte and Denis Naughten, to bring forward an amendment which would criminalise those who avail of sexual services provided by trafficked women working in prostitution, as recommended by the Council of Europe among others. In the Seanad last week, the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brendan Smith, invited us to give our views on the question of whether we should provide for the criminalisation of using or availing of the services of a trafficked person. I hope that is not a row-back, but it is certainly sounds like it.
I note the comments of the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in the Dáil, that his concern is for the alleged victim of trafficking and "one must make a judgment on what is in his or her best interest". That must be our starting point, but I did not find satisfactory the Minister's Dáil explanation of the difficulties that would be entailed by criminalising the users of trafficked women.
I have some sympathy with his view that it would be difficult to get a conviction because the prosecution would be obliged to prove that the accused knew that the alleged victim had been trafficked. It would be difficult, but not impossible. It is a matter of enforcement and, specifically, a question of proper resources for those who would investigate such crimes.
I found somewhat bizarre the argument that the user of the sexual services might be the best chance a victim has of escaping her ordeal and that such users would be less likely to help if they knew they had committed an offence, for example, by having sex with a trafficked person. The notion of such users being ready to act as white knights is rather far-fetched. That would be very rare if it were ever to happen.
All things considered, the Minister was right to tell the Dáil that, "In terms of legal policy, if one wants to provide for what is being suggested [the criminalisation of the users and those who avail of the services of trafficked persons], one must criminalise the purchase of sex generally", and that is in the context of prostitution. I note and welcome what my colleague, Senator McDonald, said and I hope she will put pressure on the Government to bring her aspiration to fruition.
The Minister should move to that position of criminalising the users of sexual services generally, and I will table amendments for Committee Stage dealing with the criminalisation not only of those who use and avail of trafficked persons but of those who use and avail of the services of persons in prostitution generally.
It may well be, as the Minister claims, that a report commissioned by the Norwegian Government, which examined the impact of differing approaches to the sex industry in Holland and Sweden, concluded in the case of Sweden that whereas the abolitionist approach to prostitution had reduced the number of women on the streets, it may have had unintended consequences such as sending the industry further underground and thereby increasing women's vulnerability. We must note this word "may". Ruhama, which does excellent work accompanying women caught up in prostitution, including many trafficked women, reports the views of various colleagues and contacts in Sweden, working within non-governmental organisations and for the Swedish authorities. These all maintain that the Swedish legislation, which criminalises the purchasers of sex generally, has had a positive impact in tackling both human trafficking and prostitution. Fears that the criminalisation of the user will drive trafficking and prostitution further underground ignore the fact that much of this activity, by definition, already is underground.
We must realise that there will always be a part of this murky world that will be far underground and that developments in mobile phone and internet technology, for example, mean that a certain amount of trafficking and use of prostitution will be difficult to reach despite the best efforts of legislation. This is what we have seen in Sweden, which has seen far fewer women in prostitution on the streets but may also be experiencing less of the underground activity relative to neighbouring and other countries. Rather than relying on reports, I hope our policymakers, and the Minister, in particular, would be in touch with the Swedish authorities who appear to have no inclination to reverse their enlightened law of 1999. They appear to believe that trafficking and prostitution have not increased in their country, bucking the trend in other countries. They believe they have fewer problems with trafficking than any other country in the European Union.
It is worth noting that the other country studied by that Norwegian report, namely, Holland, which went the route of regularising prostitution and, presumably, almost giving people the equivalent of PPSNs, found that it still had problems with an underground dimension to the prostitution problem, which suggests to me that there would be no harm done by criminalising the users. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting and being briefed by Ms Agneta Bucknell who worked in Stockholm in the state social services for women in prostitution. She advocates legislation along the Swedish model.
Let us be clear. It would be unjust to have trafficking legislation which could potentially prosecute the victims of trafficking but could allow those who exploit these persons get away because their acts are not considered criminal in Ireland. Let us remember that given the vulnerability of many of the people involved, one could be speaking about people effectively getting away with rape. Let us be clear also that it is inconsistent to attempt to criminalise situations where users avail of trafficked adult persons but not to extend this protection to other adult persons.
I cannot understand why it is not more obvious to policymakers that by criminalising the users of women in prostitution, we would bring about a negative impact on the number of those who use the services of prostitutes in general and of trafficked women in particular. I worry that there is an element of fatalism in policymakers' minds about prostitution being the oldest profession, etc. Perhaps worse, there may be even some who believe that prostitution provides some kind of a vent for the sexual energies of people who, apparently, cannot be controlled.
We need to get back to first principles. We are talking about solidarity with other people. In this case we are talking about solidarity with persons engaged or caught up in prostitution, many of whom have been trafficked. We need to remember that the law has the capacity to influence people's behaviour. When something is criminalised, many people are deterred from engaging in it. In other situations, we see how much benefit the criminal law is as an influence on people's behaviour. How can we legislate to prohibit smoking in public places, litter, drink driving or speeding, but not legislate to prohibit people from exploiting the bodies of other people, generally women, who in the majority of cases are not in the business out of anything that could be remotely described as unfettered free choice?
There are people who have a crazy notion that prostitution is something some women choose to do. This ignores all the pressures on women who make this so-called choice, it ignores the momentum legalisation or tolerance creates for other women to be exploited, it ignores the negative exploitative attitudes towards women which this generates and it ignores the wider impact on society.
Nobody disputes any longer that drink driving and speeding are hard to prevent, but neither do we dispute that enforcement is both possible and necessary. Today, I received a letter from Action on Smoking and Health, ASH, seeking the introduction of a ban on smoking in cars in which persons under 16 are being transported. That is a law that could be difficult to enforce and where convictions might be difficult to secure. Nonetheless, nobody suggests we should not attempt this, because we see the educative dimension of the law. We should have no more talk about laws being impossible to enforce and convictions impossible to secure or that the laws drive certain things underground. This kind of talk takes us into a moral and jurisprudential wasteland.
We need legislation to protect people and society from vice. The best way to do this is to target the user, not the person in prostitution or the one being trafficked to be exploited, whether in the sex industry or the labour area generally. If such legislation tackles the users and creates a massive disincentive for them, it will impact in the way we want on our trafficking problem. However, we also need the resources for enforcement of the criminal law.
We must resist the temptation to see victims of trafficking as just an immigration problem. The Minister has set up an anti-trafficking unit in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and this is welcome as is the proposed involvement of NGOs in the unit. However, I wonder whether the legislation should also provide a statutory basis for the unit, akin to the establishment of the Press Council for example, and set terms of reference which will set out — as Deputy Pat Rabbitte attempted to do in an amendment in the Dáil — the types of protection and assistance which will be available to victims of trafficking.
This legislation is timely, but we have some way to go before it takes a properly principled and humanitarian approach to the problems of human trafficking and the consequences of this serious problem for vulnerable people.
I thank all the Senators who contributed to this debate for their comments, which were, in general, positive. Their contributions are much appreciated. It is clear we all share an abhorrence of the evil trade of trafficking in human beings and wish, not only to tackle it in Ireland, but internationally through police co-operation and heightened awareness.
The Department's opening contribution mentioned we are adopting a holistic approach to the challenge posed by trafficking in human beings. An holistic approach does not necessarily mean that we will include all our responses and initiatives in one Bill, or even that everything must be done by way of legislation. It means that when we add together all the initiatives taking place, of which the Bill is one important part, we will have a comprehensive policy response that ensures that human trafficking is tackled at every level, including the protection of victims.
There is no need to repeat in any detail how we will give effect to that policy as it is on the record of the House. The Bill represents just one of four strands of a comprehensive strategy to tackle trafficking in human beings. All four strands will develop side by side so that, for example, the enactment of the criminal offences legislation dealing with immigration issues, a more structured scheme of victim protection, the provision of services to victims and awareness raising will take place contemporaneously. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform assured the Dáil when the Bill was going through that House that when the legislation comes into operation one month after its enactment, the recovery and reflection and residency provisions in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill will apply to trafficked persons on an administrative basis, as if that Bill was already in operation on that date. This will ensure that the gap between the coming into operation of the two pieces of legislation will be filled by administrative action in that respect. I can give the same assurance to the Seanad today.
Our primary goals in the field of trafficking are to ensure that the criminal gangs involved in this evil trade are put out of business and behind bars, that victims will be protected, receive all necessary supports and have no fear in giving evidence in court, that country citizens will receive the necessary residential rights under the Immigration legislation and, finally, the early ratification of the relevant international instruments, in particular the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. Before the Council of Europe convention can be ratified, the proper structures must be in place. Chapter VII of the convention establishes a strict monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the convention by a group of experts, which shall be known as GRETA. The evaluation procedure for the parties to the convention may include country visits. The Minister said in his opening address that this legislation alone is not sufficient for ratification of the convention. For that reason, he has established a high level group to recommend the most appropriate and effective response to protecting victims, in line with the requirements of the Council of Europe convention. It is also the reason he established a dedicated anti-trafficking unit, headed by a recently appointed executive director.
Where legislation is needed, such as in criminal and immigration laws, that is being provided. Also, where administrative measures are required, they will be provided. I assure Senators that victims of trafficking will receive all the necessary protection and services that are provided for in the United Nations and Council of Europe instruments on trafficking. If we cannot do that, we cannot ratify those instruments.
I would now like to respond to the specific issues raised by Senators in the course of the debate. My responses are not in any order of importance, but more or less in the order they were made.
Senator Regan referred to the delay in bringing the Bill forward, considering that the Council framework decision was due for compliance in August 2004. That is true, but it would be unusual to legislate for a subject that was still being negotiated at the time. I refer to the Council of Europe convention against trafficking in human beings, which was finalised in 2005. The general scheme of a Bill, of which trafficking was just one component, was published in 2006 but, because it was proving difficult to get the Bill finalised, the Minister decided, on taking up office, to extract the trafficking provisions and provide for them in a separate Bill as a matter of urgency. That is the reason we are in a position to debate this Bill today and why it will shortly become law.
Senators Regan and Fitzgerald maintained that the period of recovery and reflection in the Immigration Bill will only apply to third country nationals. That is true. Persons from the EU member states of Eastern Europe have a right of residency in this country and their need for protection and the services to be provided to them will be catered for administratively in the national action plan being drawn up by the high level group.
Senator Regan also commented that the work of the high level group would be improved by the participation of the NGOs. Part of the remit of the group is to decide on the most appropriate way to engage constructively with the NGOs and other interested persons to ensure the most effective response to trafficking in human beings. Accordingly, the matter will be considered at the first meeting of the high level group which will take place early next month.
Senators O'Donovan and Norris referred to trafficking for the purpose of transplanting human organs. This is included in the Bill in order to comply with the United Nations and Council of Europe instruments on trafficking. However, there is no evidence of such trafficking into Ireland or, for that matter, into the member states of the European Union. That is why such trafficking does not feature in the EU trafficking framework decision.
Senator Bacik considered that immigration issues should not be separated from the criminal issues and should, accordingly, be included in the Bill. The Senator has a point, but the greater argument can be made that not separating the immigration issues from immigration matters generally and that placing all immigration issues in one Bill that deals comprehensively with policy on that subject is preferable. I emphasise again that the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill deals only with immigration issues. Protection issues which do not have immigration aspects will be dealt with administratively.
Senators Bacik and McDonald argued for a non-punishment clause in this Bill but such a statutory clause, providing complete immunity from prosecution, would be at variance with the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I am happy to rely on the common sense and discretion of the investigating and prosecuting authorities when dealing with trafficked persons.
Senators Bacik, Fitzgerald, McDonald and Mullen also asked that we consider adopting the Swedish system of criminalising the purchase of sex and decriminalising the sale of sex. The Swedish laws have been studied in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and are being kept under constant review. To date, the arguments for adopting that system are not totally convincing and the lack of adoption of the Swedish laws in other countries is also relevant. There appears to be a drop in the number of street prostitutes in Sweden, although the level of reduction is disputed. Furthermore, the level of prostitution via the Internet, mobile telephones and hotel rooms is also unclear. Neighbouring countries have reported an increase in prostitution. The fact is that demand does not disappear because of a change in the law; it is simply displaced. We are examining whether it would be feasible to draft an amendment creating an offence of soliciting a trafficked person for sex in the knowledge or belief that he or she was trafficked. Such an amendment must be credible and not just inserted for the optics.
Senators Boyle and Alex White referred to legislation providing for enabling provisions, thereby shifting the power to make or to elaborate on the laws through secondary legislation or ministerial regulation. This Bill contains no such power. In recent years, decisions of the courts have greatly curtailed what can be left to ministerial regulations. I remind Senator Alex White that his party proposed, in the Dáil, an amendment on victims' rights that would have enabled the Minister to promulgate a code of victims' rights in respect of victims of trafficking.
Senator Mary White read out a graphic would-be job description for a woman trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Her words confirm that the actions being taken on so many levels, including in this Bill, are not only worthwhile but essential. The Minister mentioned in his opening speech the establishment of a dedicated anti-trafficking unit in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the significance of the establishment of that unit should not be underestimated. It is not every new or newly-significant issue that results in the establishment of such a dedicated unit. It will be in a position to drive the response to trafficking and to ensure that all the necessary protections and services are available to alleged victims.
Senator Fitzgerald raised a number of issues today, with which I will now deal briefly. The Senator called for the term "deceit" to be inserted into the Bill. However, the term "deceived" is already included in section 5(1)(b), which will no doubt satisfy the Senator. She also referred to the possibility that residing rights might be seen as an incentive that could affect the subsequent prosecution of a trafficker. This is dealt with in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, which was prepared in the light of expert legal advice. It is relevant that the residency rights are temporary in nature.
Senator Fitzgerald also raised the issue of awareness of the issue among gardaí. In that context, I must point out that a total of 150 police officers from the Garda Síochána and the PSNI were trained in prevention, protection and prosecution measures relating to trafficking in human beings during the period 2006 to 2007. The officers who received the training were selected as being those most likely to encounter victims of trafficking, in the Border, immigration and detective units nationwide. The training was designed by the Garda Síochána, in conjunction with the International Organisation for Migration. Non-governmental organisations such as Ruhama and Migrant's Rights gave presentations to participants, based on their interactions with the victims of trafficking. From the point of view of awareness, everything that could be done has been done but this is an area that will be kept under review and if further training is required, it will be provided.
Senator Fitzgerald also referred to lap dancing clubs. While existing legislation does not specifically cover the licensing of lap dancing clubs, the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor in such clubs is controlled by the Licensing Acts, 1833 to 2004 and the Registration of Clubs Acts, 1904 to 2004. Therefore, it is open to the Garda Síochána to enter such premises for the purposes of preventing or detecting the violation of any of the provisions of the licensing laws. Where circumstances so warrant, it is also open to the Garda Síochána to object to the granting or renewal of licences for the sale of intoxicating liquor in these establishments. Licences for the sale of alcohol must be renewed annually, in September, and it is open to any person, not just a member of the Garda Síochána to lodge an objection to renewal in any case. This can be done, for example, on public order or nuisance grounds. It is also possible to object to the granting of special exemption orders, which permit late opening. I understand there is a group within the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government which is examining the issue of the regulation of premises used in the sex industry.
I am familiar with one lap dancing club which opened close to my own home. It caused a lot of concern as it was located in a most unsuitable area. However, through a lack of business, the club eventually closed down and the premises reverted to its previous business of selling pints to the locals. I can identify with what Senator Fitzgerald said regarding the need for locals to have a say in the type of activities that are carried on in premises in their neighbourhoods.
The Garda Síochána has taken a proactive approach and is very vigilant in ensuring that any allegations relating to the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation are vigorously investigated. While evidence of the involvement of criminal gangs in the trafficking or smuggling of non-nationals into the State is scarce, a number of specific operations have been put in place with a view to the prevention and detection of such activity. One such operation is operation quest, the objective of which was to investigate allegations that non-nationals were being illegally brought into the State for the purpose of employment in the sex industry. The main target of the operation was activity associated with lap dancing clubs.
In the course of operation quest, several hundred non-national lap dancers were interviewed and asked how they came to be employed in the sex industry. During interviews conducted by the investigating officers, one case was identified where it was suggested that trafficking was a factor. A subsequent investigation resulted in the identification of a suspect, who is a Bulgarian citizen. It is suspected that he operates throughout Europe, using a number of aliases. It is also believed that while he has been in this jurisdiction, he has since left. None of the other women made any allegations of mistreatment or showed any indication that they were victims of trafficking. Prosecutions of the owners and managers of lap dancing clubs were commenced in all cases where breaches of legislation, for example, the Employment Permits Act of 2003, were detected.
Senator McDonald made reference to the fact that we do not have a dedicated vice squad. As Senators will be aware, the deployment of resources is a matter for the Garda Síochána but it must be pointed out that the domestic violence unit is also a sexual assault unit.
Senator Mullen referred to the lack of protection for victims. However, as was mentioned during the Second Stage debate, victims of trafficking, whether from within or outside the European Union, will be protected and will receive all the necessary services, which will be set out in the national action plan being prepared by the high-level group.
I hope I have dealt with the main points that arose in the debate. It was an invigorating debate that covered a large area of policy on trafficking. Immigration policy was a recurring theme and there will be ample opportunity to discuss it further in the debate on the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill in the coming weeks and months. However, the main theme of the debate was the overwhelming concern expressed by all speakers for the plight of the unfortunate victims of trafficking and what our response should be to the challenges it poses. I am satisfied the responses I have detailed today and the opening speech made by my colleague indicate that we are adopting the correct approach which will make Ireland a very hostile place for traffickers and a friendly and humane place for alleged victims, irrespective of whether immigration issues are a factor.
If I have not had time to deal with particular issues raised by Members, they can contact the Department and we will provide them with detailed responses where possible. I thank Members for their constructive contributions.