Breen urges action on Human Trafficking

November 24th, 2009 - Pat Breen

Speaking during the Fine Gael Private Members Motion, Deputy Breen said
“I commend my colleague, Deputy Naughten, on bringing this important motion before the House. Trafficking in human beings is one of the greatest infringements of a person’s human rights. It is modern slave trading. The United Nations estimates that over 2.4 million people are trafficked worldwide, mainly for sexual exploitation.
International policing of human trafficking has proved difficult as it is done in a secretive fashion, and people are often afraid to speak out. The victims of human trafficking are lured in by underground criminals when they arrive in a country like Ireland and find they have no jobs. As they are in a strange country, they become dependent on the trafficker. They do not know anybody else and their illegal status gives the trafficker the upper hand.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be aware of the case in his constituency in 2001 when eight Turkish refugees lost their lives coming to Ireland. They had to endure a 53 hour journey in a packed freighter container on a ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. Thankfully, the members of the smuggling gang responsible for the crime were brought to justice and jailed in Belgium. That was a sad case of a family caught up in human trafficking.
All of us were shocked recently when we watched the RTE “Prime Time Investigates” programme which investigated human trafficking. We listened to the many harrowing stories of young women who were lured to Ireland and forced to work in the sex trade. I recall the story of one girl, Maria, who was a Romanian immigrant. It told of how she arrived in Paris and got a flight to Cork. When she arrived in Cork she was brutally beaten, forced to work in a brothel in south Dublin and threatened that she would be killed if she did not do what she was told by her pimp. All that poor girl wanted was a better life. That is all these people want, but unfortunately they do not get a better life. There are many more stories like Maria’s and they are all too familiar.
An NUI Galway report published in 2007 found that at least 76 victims were trafficked into Ireland for the sex trade here between 2000 and 2006. Following a recent seminar on the subject, both the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Human Rights Commission joined forces to appeal to the Irish Government to ratify the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking immediately. Ireland is one of 21 member states of the Council of Europe which has not ratified the convention since 2005, when the convention was first adopted by the Council of Europe. The Council has been to the forefront in highlighting this issue. I have been a member of the Council of Europe and it has been very much to the fore in regard to the rights of human beings.
Forty children who were in the care of this State have gone missing in the past eight months, and 36 of the children are still missing, a point to which Deputy Clune referred. Those statistics speak for themselves. Since 2000, some 503 children in HSE accommodation have gone missing. A total of 411 of those children are still missing and it is suspected that many of them are victims of human trafficking.
There is an urgency about the matter. We owe it to those children and the hundreds of others who face the threat here that this country is not seen as a safe haven for those criminals who prey on vulnerable children. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, should explain to the House the reason Ireland has not signed up to that convention. As my colleague, Deputy Naughten, said last night, it is important that we clamp down on the potential exploitation and abuse being perpetrated in this jurisdiction. The full rigours of the law should apply to those criminals who are involved in prostitution.
The Minister of State should review the accommodation arrangements for victims who have the courage to speak out. Placing those victims in asylum centres is not ideal because often they do not remain in the country and they refuse to testify against their abusers.
We need to send a strong message from this House that we will not tolerate human trafficking in this country and that anybody convicted here will face the full rigours of the law. That is extremely important. There should be no hiding place in this country for criminals involved in prostitution.