Seanad debates

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Criminal Justice (Smuggling of Persons) Bill 2021: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:30 am

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to present this Bill to the Seanad. Its purpose is to strengthen Ireland's regime against the smuggling of persons, and to implement several important international instruments. People smuggling is the facilitated, irregular movement of people across borders for financial or other benefit. It is distinct from human trafficking in that smuggling occurs with the consent of the person, while trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation and exploitation of a victim. However, smuggling is inevitably closely linked to trafficking and exploitation, often leaving those who are smuggled owing huge debts to the smugglers, and, of course, often placing those being smuggled in mortal danger.

The UN Office for Drugs and Crime estimates that 2.5 million people are smuggled each year. Catastrophic loss of life is all too common, and everyone in the House will recall the horrific deaths of 39 Vietnamese men, women, and children in Essex two years ago. Ireland has experienced the tragic consequences of people smuggling in the Wexford tragedy of December 2001, where eight people suffocated in a container while attempting clandestine entry into the United Kingdom. People smuggling is a highly profitable criminal activity and one that is difficult to prosecute, given its inherently complex and cross-border nature. A co-ordinated international response, including effective and dissuasive criminal sanctions, is vital, and this Bill will ensure Ireland plays its part in that response.

However, criminal sanctions are one part of a broader national response, particularly in respect of how we support those most at risk of exploitation. I draw the House's attention to the approval by Government earlier this year to revise the national referral mechanism to make it easier for victims of trafficking to come forward, be identified and access advice, accommodation and support. Other parts of the ongoing work on trafficking include the drafting of a new national action plan on human trafficking; the development of training, through NGOs, targeting front-line staff in industries such as hospitality, airline and shipping who may come into contact with trafficked persons; the work being undertaken to provide dedicated accommodation for female victims of sexual exploitation; and increased funding dedicated specifically to supporting victims of trafficking.

As Senators will be aware, people smuggling is already an offence in Ireland under section 2 of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000. The legislation before the House is motivated by two goals, namely, to extend those provisions in line with the relevant EU and UN instruments, ensuring that Ireland meets its shared international obligations; and to address the practical limitations of that Act, which have hampered successul prosecutions. The Bill reflects the provisions of three international instruments. First is the EU Council Directive 2002/90/EC defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residenc;, second is the EU framework decision 2002/946/JHA on the strengthening of the penal framework to prevent the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence; and, third is the 2000 UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, which supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

The EU framework is composed of two instruments that were adopted together and are commonly referred to as the facilitators package. Together, they set a baseline against people smuggling across the European Union, providing for the essential elements of offences and their geographic scope, minimum and maximum penalties, corporate liability, extra-territorial jurisdiction and inchoate offences. These instruments were introduced in 2002, and at the time Ireland and the UK chose not to participate in them. However, we have committed, in the context of closer links with the Schengen Area, and for the purpose of accessing the second generation Schengen information system, SIS II, to implement them by the end of this year.

The UN protocol was adopted by the General Assembly in 2000. It was the first global instrument to contain an agreed definition of smuggling of migrants. Countries that ratify this treaty must ensure that migrant smuggling is criminalised in accordance with the protocol's legal requirements. Taken together, the EU and UN instruments require criminalisation of facilitating smuggling into any member state or state party to the protocol. They also provide for the criminalisation of facilitating not only the act of unlawful entry into a state, but also that of facilitating unlawful presence. The instruments also require the exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction on a broader scale than is currently provided for.

As I noted, significant practical issues have arisen in respect of the offence under section 2 of the 2000 Act. The most important of these is that it is an element of the existing offence that it must be proved that the smuggling was done for gain. Investigations conducted to date have been largely intelligence led, and prior preliminary investigative actions will usually have been conducted in advance of an arrest. The requirement to prove the "for gain" element of the offence places a difficult burden on investigators, particularly when an offence is discovered at the point of entry rather than through prior intelligence gathering. This is a well-known issue in respect of these offences. The European Commission, for example, in its analysis, stated:

In this context, it is useful to recall that payments to migrant smugglers tend to occur in third countries of origin and transit. These are often done in cash ... [or] through the use of intermediary brokers operating largely without a paper trail and often outside the law ...

While the offence under the 2000 Act has been successfully prosecuted, in practice it is often simply impossible to meet this burden of proving gain, even under circumstances where it is clear that no humanitarian purpose of any sort exists. Accordingly, a reversed burden approach has been taken, which provides that it is a defence to prove on the balance of probabilities that the conduct was engaged in for the purpose of humanitarian assistance rather than for material benefit. It also expressly includes in the scope of the defence those working on behalf of bona fide organisations giving assistance without charge to those seeking asylum. A central provision of the international response to people smuggling is to avoid criminalisation of smuggled persons, and the Bill makes express provision to ensure that criminalisation of smuggled persons does not occur.A person does not commit an offence by virtue of being smuggled. The primary offence under this section must be in respect of another person, while section 9(2) provides that a person does not commit an offence by aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring his or her own smuggling. To avoid any doubt or chilling effect, the Bill also makes express provision in section 5(2) to ensure that those providing goods and services in the ordinary course of business, landlords, for example, are not captured under the definition of what constitutes assisting presence in the State.

I will now briefly mention the specific provisions of the Bill. Part 1 contains preliminary provisions, including the Short Title, commencement, expenses, repeals and definitions. Part 2 forms the heart of this Bill and creates a new criminal offence.

Section 6 provides for the offence of "assisting unlawful entry into, transit across or presence in [the] State". The essential ingredients of the offence are that a person "intentionally assists [...] entry into, transit across or presence in the State of another person, where the entry [...], transit [...] or presence" of the other person is in breach of a specified provision of Irish immigration law and the perpetrator "knows or has reasonable cause to believe that [the] entry into, transit across or presence" of the other person "is in breach of a specified provision". A person convicted of an offence under this section is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for up to ten years.

Section 7 provides for the offence of "assisting unlawful entry into, transit across or presence in [a] designated state". The elements of the penalties applicable for this offence are similar to those of an offence in respect of the State under section 6(1), except that section 7 offences relate to the entry into, transit across or presence in the designated state, rather than Ireland. The relevant immigration law is that of the designated state rather than that of Ireland. More limited extraterritorial provision also applies in these cases.

Section 8 provides for an additional offence in respect of fraudulent documents used, or intended to be used, for people smuggling. These provisions complement those of Part 4 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud) Offence Act 2001.

As I already mentioned, section 9 provides a humanitarian assistance defence. Section 10 provides for penalties. Notably, it provides that the court shall "treat as an aggravating factor any behaviour by the offender" that endangers "the life or safety of the person" being smuggled or "that resulted in the exploitation or inhuman or degrading treatment of the person to whom the offence related".

Part 3 of the Bill deals with the enforcement measures, notably including powers in respect of ships at sea, and provides for the confiscation and forfeiture of vehicles and vessels used in the commission of smuggling offences.

Part 4 deals with miscellaneous matters, including provisions for liability for corporate bodies. Part 5 addresses incidental amendments arising to other enactments.

I am indebted to several organisations that made submissions in respect of the Oireachtas's scrutiny of the general scheme of this Bill. These included Ruhama, the Migrant Rights Council Ireland, MRCI, the Bar Council and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. These submissions made concerning the general scheme have been considered in-depth during the drafting of the Bill and, where appropriate, are reflected in the Bill before the House. Many details will merit debate and I look forward to working constructively with Members as the Bill progresses.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Looking around the Chamber, I note that the Minister of State is a barrister, as are four of my colleagues. We are dealing with a justice matter, but this is technical legislation that we are bringing forward. We are trying to transpose legislation and recommendations from the EU and the UN into Irish law. Regarding research on this Bill, and the concept, I welcome the briefing note that we got from the Department last week. We also have the Minister of State’s speech today. I thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service as well for an excellent Bill digest with some useful information on this legislation.

None of us can properly appreciate what it takes for people to get involved in this activity - I do not mean on the commercial side - and to subject themselves to being smuggled. I refer to people who go to someone and say that they need to be smuggled because of the pressure they are under in the countries they would like to leave. It is not generally because people feel like they would like to go to a certain country. People are leaving countries such as Syria and I am sure Afghanistan now. They cannot get out of those countries via the regular routes and into other countries. People in those situations will do anything.

Other people are exploiting those vulnerable people. Human trafficking is worse again. Unless people are experts in this field, they may not appreciate the difference between people smuggling, which is where payment is made to be smuggled and people are then, in theory, free once they reach the far side, assuming that they manage to get to the far side. The Minister of State alluded to those awful tragedies where people do not make it on these journeys. Human trafficking then is where people are being smuggled and incarcerated at the far end. The victims are then exploited for long-term or permanent economic gain by those people who have trafficked them.

Either way, these are people who have found themselves in situations where they feel that they have to get out of their own jurisdictions and countries. They may have had to borrow or spend their life savings to do that. They may have had to give those savings to some of these people smugglers, who are exploiting these fears and also putting their victims in enormous danger in many cases, such as in refrigerated lorries, etc. They also transport people into countries where there is no guarantee that they will necessarily be safe, either on the journey or when they arrive. The victims may not be free when they do reach their destination and they may even end up in a trafficking situation.

This Bill is welcome. I note in the Bill digest that we are one of two countries in Europe that has the worst status. I think it is tier 2 or under watch status, as it is called. It is a survey from the United States. We must ensure that we are not any less proactive in banning, discouraging and enforcing rules against people smuggling. It is a vile, horrible and evil activity, which preys on the most vulnerable. I happened to be in Budapest in the summer of 2015, I think it was, when many people arrived and were trying to get into Europe. They were mainly trying to get to Germany. People could be seen around train stations because they are warm, there is surveillance and they do not close at night. However, those people were just so vulnerable. One could see the fear in their eyes. They were not aggressive. They were just fleeing. They were leaving behind their entire lives, existences, properties, families and any assets they may have had just to get out of where they were. None of us can really appreciate that experience. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers might have emigrated from Ireland, for various reasons, but they would not have felt the need to be smuggled. Therefore, we all feel for people in these types of situations, but we probably do not really appreciate the absolute pressure that they are under to escape possible arrest and killing in their own countries. These people are trying to get out and they are doing anything they can to achieve that goal.

However, we must discourage the people smugglers. I heard the Minister of State on the radio discussing this issue and stating that people from Afghanistan would be allowed in and would be able to bring family members with them into the country. We all appreciate trying to provide refuge for people who are under pressure. However, there are people who are making commercial gains from this situation and often putting the people they are gaining their money from into very dangerous situations. It is vital, therefore, that this legislation is passed quickly. I certainly do not wish to delay its passage. I do not doubt that the entire Chamber will be in favour of this legislation. It was useful that the Minister of State referred to having spoken to representatives from organisations such as Ruhama, the MRCI and IHREC and that he had, where possible and appropriate, taken on board their thoughts on this Bill. From a Fianna Fáil and a personal perspective, I welcome this legislation. We must always be trying to ensure that we do not criminalise the people who are the victims in these situations. It is the perpetrators, those making economic gain from exploiting vulnerable people, that we are targeting. I appreciate the difficulty in apprehending those perpetrators. The Minister of State alluded to some of the issues. Cash is used and other countries are involved. We must, however, make this a punitive regime where we can prove cases and make it as difficult as possible for people to engage in people smuggling. It is a despicable activity. No one in this House would say otherwise.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I of course welcome this Bill. It is of a technical nature, but it does some important things. The Minister of State discussed the difficulty of obtaining prosecutions under section 2 of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000. There have been prosecutions in that regard, but the Minister of State's point was that it is often difficult to prove effectively that the trafficking or bringing of people into the State was for gain. It can be very difficult to prove for the obvious reason that the payment would have been made in other places and in ways that are difficult to detect. I refer to establishing a reverse burden of proof, in effect, and then providing a defence where people may be engaging in humanitarian assistance or giving aid to asylum seekers without levying a charge. Those defences are necessary in that context of reversing the burden of proof and they are very welcome.Those defences are very necessary in that context of reversing the burden of proof and they are very welcome. I also welcome the avoidance of criminalisation of the smuggled persons in question. We are all aware of the crisis in Afghanistan. It must be in our minds when discussing legislation that touches on these types of issues. I learned recently of the plight of female judges in Afghanistan, many of whom have fled to Greece and will need to be resettled. It strikes me that they are a particularly vulnerable category of people given that they would be targeted for past decisions and so on. I hope that the Irish Government would be generous and proactive in playing its part in assisting resettling female judges from Afghanistan at this particular time.

Senator Horkan mentioned the US Trafficking in Persons report. I too want to raise the issue of human trafficking. I acknowledge the distinction that has been drawn between trafficking and smuggling where it is clearly a consensual activity. It is fair to say that people smuggling is a subset of human trafficking. There are many commonalities and the issues intersect. We need to reflect on where Ireland stands in the international standings when it comes to combatting human trafficking. I raised this issue in the Seanad prior to the summer recess when the Trafficking in Persons report was published by the US Department of State in July. I remind the House that that report exposed devastating failings in our country's attitude to the trafficking and exploitation of poor and vulnerable people and of our status as a destination and source of people smuggling. While this legislation is welcome in that it fulfils some of our international obligations and seeks to correct a loophole in our law in the area of people smuggling, we have a long way to go in terms of the wider issue of the part that we must play in combatting human trafficking. The Trafficking in Persons report paints a picture of a basket case country which is in the same league as dictatorships and banana republics in terms of tackling this problem. The US Department of State very helpfully produces a colour coded map of Europe. Where we stand on that map should be a cause of profound shame and embarrassment to policymakers here and to all of us in the legislative process. Countries are shaded in green, yellow, amber and red according to their performance in dealing with this crisis. Ireland is shaded in amber, alongside Belarus and Azerbaijan. The only country ranked worse than us is Russia, which is shaded in red. What does that say about us as a country that increasingly likes to talk up its human rights credentials internationally and our supposed tolerance and respect for human rights. The UK, which is increasingly a bogeyman for our entire political class, from Fine Gael on the one side to Sinn Féin on the other, ranks quite well in the Trafficking in Persons, TiP, report despite its supposedly porous borders and well publicised problems with illegal immigration.

The most shocking aspect of people smuggling in Ireland, and of trafficking in Ireland, is how common and every day it is. We all unknowingly, probably, meet or interact with victims of such activities on a weekly basis. I mentioned in July that I had been in touch with a religious sister who assists victims of trafficking and who made the truly chilling comment to me that there is not a town in Ireland that does not have victims of human trafficking working in it. Sadly, that is borne out by the TiP report, which found that victims of smuggling are being exploited in Ireland in domestic work, the restaurant industry, nail salons, food processing, waste management, fishing and seasonal agriculture, and car washing services. These are sectors we all interact with every week, if not every day. Needless to say, victims are also being exploited in criminal enterprises such is the cultivation of cannabis.

We urgently need action to address this situation which is a direct result, or in part a direct result, of the failure of successive Irish Governments. How else could we explain that we are in such a dreadful position compared with other European democracies? Some 1,700 years ago St. Augustine reminded us that a country which measures itself by its own common interests only and not by the standards of justice is not structurally different from a well organised band of robbers. Sadly, Irish foreign policy increasingly lacks a moral core. Increasingly, we do what suits ourselves at the expense of justice. We virtue-signal at home, strut the world stage and appoint special envoys without proper consultation, all to veneer that we are somehow on board with authentic human rights. Simultaneously, our leaders are rubbing shoulders with members of the Chinese politburo and having tea with ministers from Iran, regimes that have no concept of human rights as we know them. We need a reality check. I understand the trade imperatives, but it cannot be a nod to human rights on one hand while winking for trade on the other. We need to ask some serious questions in this country about how much we really care about human rights. The sexy stuff that we can parade, that does not cost us anything, is a form of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have referred to as "cheap grace". The hard stuff involves making sacrifices, facing up to the fact that as much as we value trade there are certain things to which we cannot close our eyes, one of which that I have been banging about incessantly, is the treatment by the Chinese authorities of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. I add to that its deconstruction of democracy in human rights in Hong Kong, its oppression of people of many religious faiths and its utter denial of that dimension of human rights and dignity that is involved in people's spiritual and philosophical search. Hardly anything is said about that. We get reassured by our leaders that they raise it in the appropriate forum, but if one looks at all the former Government Ministers and leaders of this country who seem to be finding their way onto international boards that have to do with Chinese cultural and economic exchange, the political establishment, or the orientation of the political establishment, in this country is very clear. That has to change. We cannot claim that we are a little country that has been a big player on the human rights scene and at the same time turn our back on that heritage all in the interests of trade and economic advancement. We have some serious questions to ask ourselves.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus gabhaim buíochas leis as ucht an méid atá ráite aige. Ar son ghrúpa Fhine Gael an tSeanaid, cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille. Is ábhar an-tábhachtach ar fad é. In the course of this debate, there has been a lot of discussion about the differences between people smuggling and people trafficking. They are not mutually exclusive. We recognise that. This Bill represents an extremely important modernisation of the law on people smuggling in Ireland. It is a mark of progress that we would put in place legislation that is clear and identifies the level at which we must engage with people to ensure that it is feasible for the authorities in this jurisdiction to obtain convictions in regard to activities that all of us can agree are dangerous and regressive in all of their respects.

The difference between people smuggling and people trafficking covers a whole spectrum of activities from giving a lift from Dublin to Belfast to a person who does not have a visa to enter the UK to the horrible tragedy that we saw in the Minister of State's constituency in terms of the deaths of people on arrival into Rosslare Port. We know throughout the world that this happens on a scale that is disgusting and abhorrent. We know also that the Irish Naval Service has been involved in fantastic activities in the Mediterranean in terms of rescuing people who in no uncertain terms are being trafficked, albeit dressed up as smuggling. The spectrum involved there is not all the subject of the Bill.

I agree with much of what Senator Mullen said about the human rights difficulties that we face as a country, both diplomatically and politically. He is correct. We deal with China as we must on many spheres. On the one hand we have many businesses that do well in conducting business with their Chinese counterparts and working through China. I understand that.On the other hand, we see from China a spectrum of activity that belies the image of a member of the international community that respects the rule of law. This includes the imposition on the leaving certificate course of the simplified characters used in Beijing and mainland China and the exclusion of the traditional characters used in places like Taiwan, for example. It runs from that cultural side of the spectrum to the appalling behaviour of the Chinese Government towards Lithuania, our EU colleague and a country not dissimilar from ours with respect to population etc. Lithuania, it seems, made the grave error of doing what Beijing perceives as a slight by recognising a Taiwan representational office in Vilnius rather than a Taipei representational office. This has resulted in the recalling of the Chinese ambassador to Lithuania from Vilnius and the expulsion of the Lithuanian ambassador to China. China is continuing to attack Lithuania in an ongoing online campaign. I hope we as a country will stand up to that kind of behaviour because it will not be long before it will come knocking on our door. As European colleagues, we must stand in solidarity with Lithuania in terms of the treatment it is receiving there.

As I said, that is not the subject of this Bill and probably is not for this debate but it is an important issue nonetheless and something we should all have in the back of our minds. With respect to this Bill, and the people smuggling aspects of it, there is, as I said, a spectrum of activity covered by this Bill, from giving a lift over a border to somebody not entitled to cross it to the absolutely intentional and deliberate attempt to circumvent the laws of entry into this or any other country. I notice the wide, transnational application of the Bill, which is welcome. This is not something that exists only within the Republic of Ireland or the Irish jurisdiction. It is appropriate that we should extend this to the protocol countries under the UN protocol, to our European neighbours and to the other countries defined in, I think, Part 3 of the Bill. We must address this not because there are parts of that spectrum that might be perceived to be not particularly harmful to the person who is smuggled but to recognise that the overall effect of having an unchecked regime whereby people can be smuggled in and out of a country is massively dangerous. It is dangerous to the countries involved and is certainly dangerous to the people being smuggled. Very often these people are being smuggled at their express wish or choice but the problem is once they operate in that space, which is illegal, they are massively vulnerable to being exploited. That is where you fall into that people-trafficking vein.

The danger is it is so easy to switch from being smuggled to being trafficked. Senator Mullen has mentioned before somebody who has given him information and people who are working. These are probably people we encounter in our daily lives and we are unaware of the plight they are facing. It is entirely appropriate we address this issue head-on because it is so easy for people who might decide they want to come to Ireland or any other state to come here but find once they arrive it is not at all the way they imagined it would be and that more importantly, their personal position is not what they imagined it would be. They might end up working off debts or being put in a place where they are simply not free and they do not avail of the rights they should have as people living in this country. In that regard, I particularly acknowledge that the Bill specifically avoids the criminalisation of people who have been smuggled. That is tremendously important, for a number of reasons. First, the simple justice of the fact the person who has been smuggled is not the person we should be targeting from a prosecutorial view. We should be looking at the people who are smuggling them. These people are profiteering from the disadvantage, the misery, in some cases, and the real difficulty of those they smuggle. Thus it is entirely appropriate we mark clearly that the latter are not the targets. The other really important reason we do that is to let them know that when they come here, by whatever means, that they are free to report the fact they were smuggled to authorities here. There should be no fear in any person who has been brought to this country illegally that he or she cannot go the authorities and report what has happened. In tandem with not criminalising them, we must put in place a scheme that means they will not suffer through deportation or at least that they will get a very sympathetic hearing from the authorities here in relation to their ongoing status in this country, rather than the fear they might have that by reporting the smuggling activity, they will end up back where they started. They may want to stay here and we should have a sympathetic ear for people in that position.

In that regard, I wish to address some of the definitions in the Bill and ask some questions which the Minister of State may have the opportunity to answer. Section 6(1) refers to the intentional nature of smuggling a person and I understand that entirely. However, section 6(1)(b) refers to a reasonable belief on the part of the person doing the smuggling. Again, I do not have a difficulty with that. I wonder whether there is room in that section for some reference to recklessness. Is there a danger a person who does engage in this intentionally might be able to say it was not intentional? Is there then a difficulty for the State in prosecutorial terms in establishing that intent and are we binding our hands by requiring the prosecution to establish intent rather than recklessness? Recklessness is used in the Bill in section 14(8)(c)(i) in relation to statements made to enforcement officers. Again, I have no difficulty with that but I wonder whether there a place for it in the offences provided for in section 6 as well, to ensure there is a clear identification of the fact that in a prosecution, the prosecution does not have to establish that intent, which can sometimes be difficult but to put before the court a clear demonstration that there is an issue in respect of whether they should have known.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister of State on it. I look forward to its passage.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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The timing of the Second Stage reading of this important legislation, which the Green Party is very pleased to support, is almost uncanny. Within the last 24 hours, as we probably all know, two women were jailed over human trafficking and organising prostitution. They became the first people convicted in Ireland of human trafficking for the prostitution ring they ran in the midlands. That followed a six-week jury trial over the summer. They were convicted by the jury and Judge Francis Comerford passed sentence yesterday, giving them both custodial sentences in excess of five years. It is reported:

Judge Comerford said the offences did not relate to trafficking the women into Ireland but the control exercised over them once they arrived here when the victims had become "indentured slaves." "They coerced the victims into a sustained and degrading period of prostitution which did great harm to all victims for financial gain," the judge remarked. He said the two accused had taken advantage of vulnerable women who had no real alternative but to accept their exploitation before finally summoning enough courage to break free.

If ever we wanted a live, real example to show this is not theoretical or about getting in line with Europe, European instruments and transposing laws from Europe, this is it. This is real, this happened and as Senator Mullen said, it is happening all the time. Sometimes it is visible but more often it can be invisible. We can comment on this because the sentencing process is complete. As Judge Comerford said, the victims had no real alternative but they tragically accepted direct exploitation before summoning the courage to break free. No doubt huge damage was done. I hope there are sufficient counselling and support services in this country to support the victims on the receiving end of such horrendous crimes. I note "breaking free" is the phrase used by the trial judge in that matter and I welcome the recently-approved plans for the national referral mechanism, NRA, to make it easier for victims of human trafficking to come forward and be supported. I look forward to seeing this put on a statutory footing. It will hopefully enable more victims to come forward because coming forward in such instances must take huge courage, I can only imagine. It can be a dark, lonely, isolating and nerve-wracking experience.

On Second Stage it is appropriate to flag matters. Is the Minister of State satisfied concerns raised by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission are adequately addressed?The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said that the proposed Bill to combat the trafficking of human beings is silent on the rights and protections of smuggled persons into Ireland. A number of months ago the IHREC chief commissioner, Ms Sinéad Gibney, was reported as saying that Ireland is both a destination and source country for human trafficking, including people trafficked for sexual exploitation, domestic work, fishing, agriculture, the hospitality sector, waste management, and car washing services among others.

As other speakers said, this is not some invisible economy at work. Perhaps prostitution is done in quiet places in the dark. In the case of many of these services, such as catering and car washing, for all we know, we are in a sense inadvertently - I emphasise the word "inadvertently" - assisting part of this ring. It is reassuring that the Oireachtas will tighten the grip but I am concerned by what Ms Gibney said. IHREC's recommendation made it clear that a more robust, consistent, and thoroughly documented response system to the smuggling of persons in Ireland is required for us to be able to take on this scourge.

The IHREC also said that the proposed law needs to take a vital step in putting in place a system that is victim-centred, gender sensitive and takes into account the experiences, support needs and, above all, the devastating impact of any related exploitation and abuse on the lives of those affected. We will have an opportunity on the later stages of the Bill to ensure that this legislation is tightened up and becomes more robust. However, I would like to know if the Minister of State can assure us that he can meet those concerns head on.

In its submission, the IHREC advised that the offence of people smuggling as currently drafted in the Bill must be revised to ensure legal certainty. Its positive, constructive proposal that aggravating factors, especially which come into play at a sentencing matter for a trial judge, should include a wide range of categories, including offences that involve children, women, or people with disabilities. Overall, this Bill is a step in the right direction and we welcome it.

In the week that is in it, and to stay topical, I welcome the recent announcement that 500 extra places will soon be made available in this country for Afghan families. As other speakers said, the Bill proposes to update the criminal justice aspects of the regime in respect of smuggling. It reflects the provisions of three international instruments against people smuggling. These are: the EU Council directive, the EU framework decision, and the United Nations protocol. These have been well ventilated today.

I think Senator Ward said that we are looking at a modernisation. The Green Party welcomes that modernisation and the Minister of State bringing this Bill before the House on Second Stage. However, I have flagged concerns and I have reservations about the Bill. I reserve the right to bring forward amendments at a later stage to make sure the Bill is more robust and that there is no room at all for ambiguity.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile has eight minutes.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, cosúil le mo chomhghleacaithe eile. Táim sásta go bhfuil an seal agam cúpla focal a rá ag an chéim seo den Bhille. Cé go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bhfuil an díospóireacht agus an comhrá seo againn faoina leithéid de chúrsaí, tá sé fíor thábhachtach fosta go ndéanaimid rud éigin faoin ábhar seo. An rud is tábhachtaí faoin reachtaíocht atá os ár gcomhair inniu ná go bhfuil sé ag tabhairt seals don Rialtas agus don Stát rud éigin a dhéanamh faoin ábhar seo. Is é sin a rud is tábhachtaí agus is mó atá de dhíth.

In recent times we have witnessed our television screens the horror, heartbreak and misery caused to those desperate, poor, and often exploited people, who are lured into the world of human trafficking and people smuggling. Whether these are people who are risking their lives and, in many cases dying, in the Mediterranean, or who are suffocated on the backs of lorries in Europe, or, indeed, being rescued subsequently he held in detention centres, their lives unfortunately are miserable.

People do not place themselves, or in many cases their children, in such danger without good reason. They are often fleeing their own countries for a better way of life, whether as political, or indeed economic, refugees. Of course, rational and calm logic would tell those compelled to use the traffickers and smugglers that their lives in the hands of these criminals will generally speaking get much worse. However, as we know only too well from the story of immigration in this country, calm reflection on the choices one has to make is in most cases an unaffordable luxury. "Needs must", is what is driving these vulnerable people.

This Bill designed to assist those caught up in the dangerous world of people smuggling and it will align the legislation in the state with EU legislation. It also specifically allows for circumstances where a person is brought here by a designated organisation for the purpose of seeking asylum. This is new and has the potential to be helpful. The Bill will allow for designated organisations to bring asylum seekers to this State without fear of prosecution. It is with the utmost importance, because we are dealing with people who are at risk, adults and children, that designated organisations are rigorously vetted to reduce any possible risk of exploitation.

The Bill also allows for prosecution in cases where the offence did not take place in this State. However, that is a matter for the Director for Public Prosecutions, DPP, as there must be a connection to this State, either in the commission of the offence or indeed after it. While we discuss and, hopefully, ultimately get to a stage we can pass this legislation, there is need to reduce the time it takes to process asylum applications. To assist in overcoming this time delay, the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, and the Irish National Immigration Service, INIS, should be given additional resources.

Overall colleagues in the Chamber and my party are content with the aspirations of this Bill. We, like others, will support it on Second Stage. We have all heard some of the horrific and tragic stories, either through the media or through our privileged positions within this House. It is important that we have the opportunity to discuss legislation such as this in the broadest sense. Indeed, that is what Second Stage is for. However, there is also a real onus on us to act and to pass laws that will make a difference - laws that will have an impact and that will ultimately support those who are most vulnerable and who are facing such horror and such difficulty.

I, like other colleagues, not least Senator Vincent P. Martin, who spoke previously, support the Bill at this stage. However, I reserve the right to work with colleagues in the House, with the Minister of State and with his officials with a shared hope and aspiration to refine, strengthen and improve this legislation where it is required.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Our next contributor is Senator Mark Wall and he has eight minutes.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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I, too, want to welcome the Minister of State to the House. The Labour Party welcomes this Bill. It is described as technical in nature. As was said, it proposes an updating of the criminal justice aspects of the regime in respect of the smuggling of persons. It reflects the provisions of three international instruments against people smuggling. Of course, the need for this legislation is to ensure our continued compliance with the EU directives, allowing for national border control, customs, and police authorities responsible for checks at the external Schengen area border, as well as within that area. In order to circulate alerts about wanted or missing persons and objects, such as stolen vehicles and documents, we are told that compliance with these measures is required by 31 December 2021 and is a condition of continued access.

It is important to acknowledge, as the Minister of State has done, the continued great work of the NGOs in this area in protecting and assisting those vulnerable, who often find themselves isolated in a foreign country and in need of urgent assistance. It is also very important to distinguish between people smuggling and human trafficking, although as the Minister of State said, both are inevitably closely linked.That is very important in that, as has been said, the people who are smuggled owe huge debts to their smugglers, which often places them in mortal danger, as we have seen in the past.

In 2019 alone, one of the organisations the Minister of State mentioned in his introduction, Ruhama, worked with 116 victims of trafficking from 30 different countries. It does great work. Ruhama states that it has seen at first hand the detrimental impact trafficking can have on individuals and it welcomes any strengthening of the legal provisions designed to combat trafficking or people smuggling on a national legislative footing. Ruhama has worked with service users based in every county in the Republic of Ireland. It also provides training for front-line workers and those in law enforcement centred on knowing the signs of human trafficking and identifying individuals who are potential victims of human trafficking. Ruhama states that we must be under no illusion, as sex trafficking happens in every city, town and village across the country. Ruhama and other NGOs have welcomed the implementation of the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, which supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime through this legislation. The highly orchestrated and organised nature of the crimes associated with commercial people-smuggling cannot be overstated. The NGOs further state that it is their experience on the front line of service provision, and it is widely documented, that the provision and pursuit of human traffickers can be very complex considering the international reach of these crimes. It is vitally important to note that people who work in this area say that the operation of people smuggling is constantly changing. It is important that our legislation continues to keep pace with the vile attempts to smuggle people, which is what is before the House today.

In its 2020 report, Countering the Challenges of Human Trafficking in the Digital Era, Europol noted that information and communications technology have rapidly changed the criminal landscape, with traffickers adopting new methods and ways to recruit, control and exploit victims. Covid-19 has played a role in the changing landscape of human trafficking. Last year, the European Migrant Smuggling Centre reported that criminals are finding new ways to abuse the most vulnerable migrants wishing to travel or cross Europe and those financially struggling to be victimised into labour or sexual exploitation. It is important, as Senator Martin indicated, that in recent days we saw two five-year sentences handed down for trafficking, the first of their kind in Ireland. That is an important statement to be made by this country.

The front-line battle Ruhama and the other NGOs carry out on a daily basis must continue to receive our support, and the level of support must be increased. It is very important to clearly state that the Bill does not target those who have been smuggled. It is also important that we keep the lines of communication open with people who, unfortunately, find themselves in that situation. We look forward to the continuation of the Bill through the House. We support it on this Stage, and we look forward to further debate.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, to the House. I also welcome the Bill. However, I wish to highlight the importance of language in the Bill. For example, when we use words such as "smuggled", "trafficked" or "asylum seeker", we can lose track of the people and the stories beneath these terms. While I welcome many of the provisions within the Bill, some of the issues I have with it stem from a lack of precision in the language, which threatens to lose the complexity and struggle of each of the stories. For that reason, when we are discussing the Bill it is important that we remember the individual people and the struggles which we are speaking about today.

We have all watched with horror the pictures of migrants making the journey across the Mediterranean in search of safety. Unfortunately, since the start of this year more than 1,300 people have died while making this journey. It is important to keep these images at the front of our mind during any discussion on policy. That must start by explicitly stating within the Bill that the person who is smuggled will not be liable to criminal prosecution. The goal of the Bill, as I understand it, is to bring Ireland in line with our European and international counterparts. In this sense, to add in a clear line protecting these vulnerable people from criminal prosecution would bring Ireland on par with the standard set in the UN protocol against the smuggling of migrants, on which the EU's two legal instruments, which this Bill seeks to implement, are based.

In addition, it is essential that the Bill explicitly grants rights and protections to vulnerable smuggled persons. These are people who have undertaken the most dangerous journeys. While the State has the right to control the entry and residence status of anyone entering the country, the legislation must also make accommodation for their safety and protection.

Our Constitution, as well as European and international law, offer several fundamental protections to everyone who reaches our shores, regardless of their migration status. People who have been smuggled are entitled to these rights and that should be clearly stated within the Bill. To do this would, again, not exceed the standard set by EU laws, which this Bill is looking to implement, but merely meet them.

Making smuggled persons' rights and protections explicit within the Bill would bring it in line with the Court of Justice of the European Union. In 2014 the court confirmed that personal rights afforded to European citizens and laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights Act, as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights, are also afforded to those people who are smuggled.

In order to ensure that these vulnerable people are offered the rights and protections to which they are entitled, we must first ensure that they are properly identified. Currently, Ireland and Romania are the only two EU states that are placed on the tier 2 watchlist of the recently published Trafficking in Persons report. The report, compiled by the United States Government to combat human trafficking, suggests with this ranking that the estimated number of victims of severe forms of trafficking in Ireland is either very significant or is significantly increasing.

It is therefore essential that this Bill commits to the establishment of a proper identification process, which should tie in to clearly stated rights and entitlements laid out within the Bill. However, without naming specific rights and protections or administrative processes, the most basic entitlement that these vulnerable people deserve, is to be treated with respect and dignity. This starts with training. The Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings recently recommended that Irish authorities ensure that front-line staff involved in the identification of victims of trafficking should be provided with regular training and guidance on best practice. By placing a provision in the Bill committing the State to regular training of officers and officials dealing with smuggling and trafficking, we offer these vulnerable people the best possible chance of being dealt with in a dignified and respectful manner.

I wish to highlight the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission's recommendation that those who smuggle for humanitarian purposes should be entitled to use this as an exemption from criminal prosecution rather than a mere defence from it. If the purpose of the Bill is to bring Ireland in line with the legal instruments for the prosecution of traffickers and smugglers, then to add such an exception to the Bill would only bring Ireland further in line with the 2002 European Council directive on smuggling. The current provision within section 5 is cast as a defence, rather than an exemption or exclusion, which is not in line with this European provision.

I call for the Bill to be more precise in its language to ensure that the vulnerable people who it deals with are treated fairly and with dignity. I also call for the Bill to be explicit in its non-criminalisation of smuggled people, to be clear in the rights and protections given to them and that any humanitarian efforts will not be treated as a crime but as an exemption.

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, for coming to the House to introduce this legislation, which I very much support. Immigration is one of the biggest challenges facing European nations, including this country. It is important that we have legislation like this to tackle the smuggling of persons. Interestingly, one of the first sentences for involvement in human trafficking was handed down in Mullingar criminal court yesterday. The Minister of State has acknowledged the dedication of An Garda Síochána in investigating these crimes and ensuring that they are prosecuted successfully. They are harrowing crimes with victims at the centre of them. My colleague, Senator Black, referred to the use of language, which is very important.Behind each of these instances of smuggling, there are individuals and families. The definition is important. Trafficking is obviously without consent and is for exploitation reasons, whereas smuggling is with consent but is illegal and can turn into serious exploitation. We hear anecdotally of cases where payments for smuggling were not made and exploitation ensued. That happens a lot.

The Minister of State must be commended on his new legislation, which offers a once in a generation amnesty to undocumented migrants. Inextricably linked to this legislation is the fact that he is giving a new chance to undocumented people, some of whom are here because of exploitation while others have been smuggled here. The legislation will affect up to 17,000 women living in Ireland and have a positive impact on their lives.

Many of those who have been trafficked or smuggled here do not know this amnesty is available to them. It would be great if a helpline could be put in place, perhaps through Ruhama or one of the other NGOs that do unbelievable work in this area, to let people know about it. Some people are lucky to get the counsel and advice of these amazing NGOs but others, especially those with poor English, many of whom work in the sex industry or as domestic workers, do not know that these organisations and services are there to protect them. We need to do a lot more on communication.

I support the legislation and commend the Minister of State on his work on immigration generally. This is only one Bill but he has done much more in the short time he has been in office. I congratulate him on that.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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One of the disadvantages of speaking last is that all one's best lines have stolen.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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We are saving the best until last. I mean no disrespect to everybody else, obviously.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I completely support this legislation and welcome the Minister of State's explanation of it. The hard work that went into consultation in the lead-up to the Bill was excellent. I appreciate the distinction being made between trafficking and smuggling. However, in recent weeks, I have received emails from people living in Afghanistan who are desperate to get out and people living in Dublin who have family members, spouses and otherwise, in Afghanistan and are desperate to get them out. It has given me the slightest sliver of insight into how desperate people must be to call upon the services of smugglers or if they find themselves being trafficked. There is a possibility of coercion and a desperation in that. It is very good, therefore, that at the heart of this Bill are provisions ensuring the individual is not criminalised. It is good and humanitarian legislation and I appreciate that very much.

Like others, I welcome the convictions for human trafficking secured this week. They send an important signal. I am glad the Government sent out press releases to ensure the case in Mullingar court was highlighted and nobody missed it. There is a disbelief among ordinary people living in Ireland that they are encountering people daily who have been trafficked into the country. Ordinary individuals can now employe people to provide domestic, gardening or hospitality services, especially via platforms. If people need somebody to clean their house, they can book an hour or several hours on a platform, which provides ease of access. Someone will be sent who may or may not speak English and the person will not know anything about the individual's legal status or anything else. People are relying on the bona fides of the platform. There is an increasing gap there, in which people in the hospitality industry and other areas may have encountered people who have been trafficked. I was contacted over a year ago by a person who had someone in to clean their house and became suspicious because the individual was extremely nervous. The person could have been suffering from some sort of nervous disorder, may have had a meek personality or may have been trafficked. I connected the individual who contacted me with Ruhama which gave fantastic advice. It is an amazing, fantastic organisation.

We need an information campaign on how we can recognise trafficking and identify if a person we encounter has been trafficked into the country. The stereotypes we have in our heads are of sex workers in brothels and people who are being sexually exploited. That image comes from movies and so on but there are also everyday services. Given the demand and pressure on childcare services, people looking for childcare could come across trafficking more and more. I say that recognising the distinction between the two.

The national action plan on trafficking and the national referral mechanism to allow victims to come forward are excellent developments. What is the status of the review of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 that began in September last year? The 2017 legislation, which criminalised those who pay for sex and for sexual activities with trafficked persons, was a fantastic step forward but there is the unintended consequence that where two legitimate sex workers work together, they may find themselves liable for an offence. I would appreciate a comment on that. Obviously, I support the legislation.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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Like my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, and others, I welcome this important legislation. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and commend him on the work he has done.

In Ireland today, you could encounter anybody and not know he or she has been trafficked. One of the most important parts of the Bill is the amnesty for those who are undocumented. People who are undocumented may not realise the amnesty is available. I echo the suggestion of having a campaign to make people aware of it, although any such campaign for the people in question would be tricky. It would not be easy and would have to be done in a sensitive and different way.

The organisations working in this area must be commended because they ensure that the issue of smuggling and trafficking is always on the political agenda and in the media and general discourse. People have to wake up to the fact that, sadly, thousands of people in this country have been trafficked. It is appalling. As Senator Seery Kearney said, people could have someone out to their house to help out for an hour or two without knowing that person's background or circumstances. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see this.

I also welcome the decision in Mullingar court yesterday. It is a first and a start. We have a long way to go but this legislation is an important incremental step in the right direction. I assure the Minister of State that this House will never be found wanting when the law needs to be strengthened to deal with what I consider to be the most appalling of crimes. Whatever needs to be done and whatever amendments to legislation need to be made to help prevent and eradicate this crime from our shores, we will play our part.In terms of the supports and the services of the State to support people who are in this situation, and particularly with the amnesty available at present, if people declare and come forward, the supports of the State and of our social services, of Tusla, need to be readily available. There should be no difficulties for and road blocks to people getting the full suite of supports they need to deal with the trauma they have been through. I welcome the legislation, which is important and a step in the right direction, one step of many that need to be taken.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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It is important that we distinguish that this is not a Bill related to trafficking. There is, of course, an overlap but trafficking is quite a distinct matter, and one where Ireland has rightly taken some action and can strengthen its actions. This relates to the smuggling of persons which is at their request. It is, of course, an area which needs to be carefully addressed. There are very serious concerns around the smuggling of persons illegally. We need to place it in context. The reality is that across the world we have conflicts, to which European countries have contributed. In many cases, they have generated situations which, for example, apply to some of the provisions in this Bill such as not having correct legal documents. We know that right now in the case of Afghanistan, for example, people are not necessarily able to identify the documents they need to travel, and even though a person may be legitimately entitled to travel, they may not be able to travel under his or her own name or with a passport. We have had situations such as that.

We also know that Europe has, sadly, treated wars, like those in Syria and Afghanistan, as migration crises rather than what they are which is crises of conflict and humanitarian crises. It was extraordinarily disappointing to see the EU interior ministers producing a statement in August, literally as we watched the crisis unfold in Afghanistan, in which they talked only about preventing illegal entry and what steps needed to be taken to ensure that we did not have a repeat of the situation during the conflict in Syria, a repeat that is of migration in Europe and visible migration in Europe's streets.

It is important that we are honest about that context, which is that we have a European Union which has been remiss in offering legal safe passage routes which are adequate and offering family reunification models which allow people entry. Nobody wants to take unsafe routes but where there should be legal routes, where there are better humanitarian programmes and where there are many ways for people to find a legal route and are not pushed into the hands of those who seek to commercially gain from desperation.

I recognise that there are some provisions in this Bill which are designed to protect those who are being smuggled as opposed to those who are engaged in smuggling. That is important and I know that is the intent here. There is still, however, much ambiguity, and we are creating potential situations of jeopardy.

I note that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, made numerous recommendations in regard to this Bill at pre-legislative scrutiny stage, the majority of which were not included in the Bill. One of the most crucial of those was that humanitarian aid should be an exemption under the law, and not a defence in a court case. That is provided for under the UN convention, which allows that humanitarian aid can be an exemption. We say it can be a defence, but we still have the situation where there is aggressive prosecution and aggressive litigation. It is one thing to say you have something as a defence, but you may be waiting for trial for two years, in limbo, or facing the cost of a case, which we know is happening. In 2018 we had a humanitarian volunteer from County Cork accused of human trafficking while volunteering in Lesbos, Greece. In March we had Italian prosecutors charging dozens of rescuers from Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières, accusing them of smuggling. However long they may be able to defend themselves in those cases, the key point is it is creating a criminalisation of those who are seeking to step in and to engage in the kind of humanitarian search and rescue that our State once engaged in. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, very poignantly spoke about the terrible damage done by smugglers and those who gain economically and put people at risk.

My final point is that the number of refugees assisted by our Naval Service fell from 8,500 in 2015 to 1,088 in 2018. In 2018 there were 2,160 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. These are the realities of the dangerous situations which we create when we do not create safe passage and when states do not step up, and when individuals or NGOs are left in the position of having to do the humanitarian work which states should be doing. I applaud the intent of the Bill but I would urge that that core point around humanitarian purposes and the issue of safe passage be addressed.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senators for their important contribution, general welcome for the Bill and making constructive comments and information. Several Senators referenced submissions by IHREC and a number of other bodies in regard to the pre-legislative scrutiny. There was significant criticism at the time. In drafting the Bill versus the scheme, we tried to address as many of those as possible within the narrow confines of this Bill. It is a relatively narrow Bill, particularly focused on the criminal element of the legislation in regard to smuggling. We will have an opportunity again on Committee Stage to look at a number of matters in terms of what the Bill does or does not cover and deal with.

A number of Senators raised important points. Senator Horkan and others referred to the stresses and pressures on people who seek to be smuggled into this or any other country. No one undertakes it lightly so we have been very clear within the Bill to ensure that the smuggled person cannot face any criminal charges under this legislation. There are serious difficulties in getting prosecutions under the current law in regard to the for gain element and that is one of the key reasons for reversing the burden under this legislation and instead creating defences, which was acknowledged by Senator Mullen.

Senator Barry Ward recognised the important modernisation of this law in regard to smuggling, but he also raised an issue around section 1 and the issue of intent and whether there was room to bring in recklessness as well as intent. I will certainly engage with Senator Ward on that matter prior to the Bill coming to Committee Stage. That can be looked at in terms of whether it can be expanded to include the issue of recklessness.

Senator Vincent P. Martin mentioned the issue of the first trafficking convictions that were secured yesterday in Mullingar. Senators Ardagh, Conway and others brought up those historic prosecutions. It was very welcome to see those prosecutions. Hopefully, we will see many more prosecutions of those who are trafficking in human beings.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile recognised that this would make a difference and that we must focus on legislation that will make a real difference to people in their lives. Senator Mark Wall also welcomed this but highlighted, and he is correct, that we need to keep the lines open with those people being smuggled so that they can provide information and that they are protected.We need to keep the lines open with those people who are being smuggled in order that they can provide information and to ensure that they are protected.

Senator Black again raised the issue of ensuring that smuggled persons are not committing an offence. We are quite satisfied that this legislation is clear that those who are being smuggled are not committing an offence by virtue of being smuggled. Senator Black also raised the issue of humanitarian efforts and that piece around the issue of it being a defence versus an exemption. Senator Higgins also raised that issue. It is certainly something we will examine more closely going into Committee Stage.

Senator Ardagh highlighted the issues around those first convictions in Mullingar yesterday under human trafficking. I appreciate that trafficking and smuggling are different but there is much crossover and they can be closely related, especially where the smuggled person is a vulnerable person. Senators Ardagh and Conway brought up the issue around the undocumented scheme. I agree with the Senators that when the undocumented scheme is published, it will be very important that it is highlighted to those who can benefit from it. We certainly want to ensure that everybody who cannot benefit under that scheme will be able to do so and we have been engaging with the NGOs quite extensively on this scheme to ensure that it is very simple and clear, a bit like the student scheme was a few years ago. We will ensure that it is written in plain, simple language, that it is accessible and understandable and that it will be highlighted. There will be no need for recourse for legal advice in terms of being able to apply for this scheme. It will be simple, clear and straightforward. They were the various issues. As I said, we will have an opportunity on Committee Stage to go through some of the concerns raised by Senators in more detail and try to address those where we can.

I am glad to bring this legislation before this House, in conjunction with other legislation on which we are working in the Department of Justice to really try to bring a victim-centred approach right across everything we are doing and all the legislation we are bringing in. I look forward to further engagement.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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Next Tuesday.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 5 October 2021.

Sitting suspended at 2.23 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.