WATCH: Smuggling of People Legislative Reform

Full speech transcript:

Like all the previous speakers, I welcome this Bill as a positive step. However, I disagree with the Minister of State’s comments that human trafficking and people smuggling are different. They are hand in glove. People smuggling is often the engine that facilitates the movement in human trafficking. I do not think one can be separated from the other. It is perhaps this false dichotomy that has given rise to the criticism of IHREC and others that the Bill is silent on the victims and their rights. We need to look at both human smuggling and human trafficking together. We need to address the rights of the victims as much as we need to address punishment for those who are doing the smuggling.

Deputy Howlin gave us a most welcome history lesson on our failure over a long period to implement the directives. I read the comments of Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley in a case in 2015. She described how our system for dealing with smuggling and trafficking was not fit for purpose. Little has changed since then. The obvious consequences of that are that we continue to have victims and trafficking of people. There are also serious consequences for the State. We are tumbling down the ratings in the US State Department’s trafficking in persons, TIP, report. We have been on the tier 2 watchlist for the past two years. A state only gets two years on the tier 2 watchlist before it either drops to tier 3 or moves up to tier 1. If a state falls to tier 3, there are significant consequences. The United States, in its own laws, will not work with that state in certain areas and it becomes persona non grata, as it were, because it is on tier 3.

The reform of the national referral mechanism is long overdue. It is as overdue as the transposition of the directives. While I welcome that we are beginning to see movement on reform of the national referral mechanism, it is not moving quick enough. We need to address that. I hope this Bill gives us an opportunity to do that. As I said, we need to address the lacuna relating to victims and victims’ rights that has been identified in this Bill.

What sort of politician would I be to simply offer criticism and not to offer a solution? The Minister of State will be glad to hear I do have a solution for him. I have a Bill sitting in the Bills Office awaiting approval. I had started work on it before the issue of the national referral mechanism reform was mentioned. This Bill addresses human trafficking and tries to improve the State’s response to it. It puts into legislation the Delphi indicators, which are important operational indicators for improving the identification of victims of trafficking. It seeks to improve the system and address the problems Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley commented on in 2015. It provides for a more victim-centred process of identification and for guardians ad litem for children and child victims of trafficking. It details supports and provisions that we can give to victims, and would be obligated to give to them, in line with best practice in legislation in other jurisdictions.

We need to look at these issues. I hope we can improve this Bill on Committee Stage by making amendments that will expand the legislation, include supports for victims and address the lacuna and gap with regard to silence in relation to victims. As I said, I have several legislative proposals I can pass on to the Minister of State which will do just that.