Private Members' Business. - Child Pornography Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I should like to share my time with Deputies McGahon and Kathleen Lynch.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

I am very pleased to have an opportunity of addressing the House on this subject.

Any Bill which aims to make our country a safe place for our children is most welcome. The commercial exploitation of children constitutes a general assault on them and represents a form of forced labour, worse than most. It is a type of slavery, worse than most, representing as it does a vile if not the most contemptible violation of human rights imaginable.

Last August I attended the world congress against the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Stockholm and I was appalled at what I saw and heard. It emerged from that conference that the reason the majority of children enter child prostitution is that they are abused at home and know that if they go on the streets at least they will earn some money to feed themselves.

The family unit is enormously important and whenever it breaks down children are most at risk. Ireland has a wonderful reputation for being supportive of the family, grandparents and the extended family often caring for children. This phenomenon is representative of our pro-family culture, but this culture is no longer as strong or as prevalent as heretofore. The results of this decline can be seen daily and nightly on our streets through increased levels of juvenile crime and general recklessness.

Child abuse often is a hidden problem. The majority of abusers are not strangers to their victims but rather people they know and trust. Consequently abused children are afraid to confide in any adult. Some time ago I called for the establishment of a special task force within the Garda Síochána to deal with children in danger comprising male and female members of the force. This force should be specially trained, mobile and based in every Garda district. I commend the Garda and social workers who are doing and have done wonderful work in this area but more trained personnel are required.

I was not surprised to read in an article entitled "Lambs bleating for Wolves" in The Irish Times on 24 September last that we already have a considerable child prostitution problem here. That article stated that children as young as 13 offer themselves for sale on our streets and that child prostitution is not a haphazard occurrence, that while there are particular categories of children at risk, especially the homeless, child prostitution is organised and increasing, that it is big business. That article detailed the level of activity on the streets of Dublin. We are all aware from other reports that no part of the country is immune from this cancer.

I listened to the debate last evening with great interest. The Minister said that the Bill, as drafted, contains flaws and offered to table amendments to eliminate them in the course of the Children Bill, 1996, when introduced early in the new year. His proposal did not have the approval of the Opposition who contend the present Bill should be amended and allowed to proceed through this House. Let me declare my absolute neutrality on this issue. My sole concern is that the issues raised in this Bill be addressed legislatively as soon as possible. The Minister is correct in saying that, through no fault of his, the Bill's proposers had been unable to incorporate the most recent developments within the European Union, particularly in relation to our Presidency proposals on the Agenda for Action agreed at the Stockholm conference. I do not perceive this to be a party political point and will support the Minister's proposal this evening. However, proper legislative provisions cannot be delayed. Our response to this enormous problem is long overdue.

I have not confined my comments thus far to child pornography, the subject of this Bill, because we are dealing here with related issues. If it can be established that there is a market here for child prostitution — and it is quite clear that there is — inevitably it follows that we also have a market for child pornography. International evidence produced at the Stockholm conference indicated that there are continuous links between those who engage in other forms of evil activity, such as drug abuse, and those who deal in child trafficking and child pornography. Therefore, I see no reason the newly established Criminal Assets Bureau, which is proving so successful in targeting the ill-gotten gains of drug barons, should not turn its attention also to those who make money from trafficking in children and child pornography.

I welcome the Government proposals advanced during our EU Presidency to extend the mandate of the European Drugs Unit to include trafficking in human beings. Clearly, while it has a manifestation in Ireland, child pornography is an international problem warranting an international response. Increased co-operation between European police authorities, referred to by the Minister, constitutes a welcome first move, as is the decision by the Justice and Home Affairs Council that all member states should undertake a review of their existing laws in relation to child abuse.

Let this debate represent a beginning for all of us in Ireland. Let us not be reluctant to go as far as is needed regardless of the European position.

I said earlier I felt the place of the family within our society was declining. Let me put that in proper context. In the past we were prepared to elevate the role of the family, to place it on a pedestal. We were then surprised when the revelations of the past few years indicated that matters were not as perfect as we had believed. The truth is that children's concerns, their role and requirements often have not been the primary concern in family life. This is the task we must now set ourselves. The results of child abuse are catastrophic, often incapable of being remedied within a single lifetime. We must do all in our power to ensure it does not and cannot take place. If that involves introducing programmes such as the Stay Safe programme in our schools, which are disliked by many of our so-called pro-family organisations, then so be it.

The Minister correctly pointed out that a major flaw in this legislation is that the possession of pornographic material is not an offence. There appears to be some dispute as to whether the Bill adequately addresses this issue. We, as legislators, must address this matter without delay in light of the recent decision by the European Justice and Home Affairs Committee.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Lynch.

Unlike some of my colleagues on this side of the House, I congratulate Deputy Eoin Ryan and Deputy O'Donoghue for introducing this Bill following the terrible disclosures in Belgium in recent months. However, we do not have to go to Belgium to be aware of the vilest trade in the world today. This Bill focuses attention on the modern sex slave trade in many countries, particularly Eastern countries, where the exploitation of women and, more particularly, children is a huge and lucrative market.

The decriminalisation of homosexuality in this country opened the door to all types of perversion and filth. There is evidence of a moral decline in every county and that the rot has set in. Part of the new spirit of liberalisation is that drugs, drink and prostitution are freely available among the smart-ass set that passes for society in the Ireland of today.

The use and abuse of children as sex objects by paedophiles and others can only be described as base and evil. No punishment is good enough for perverts and deviants who prey on children for sexual gratification. They should be publicly identified, locked up for years and, in some cases, whipped.

The Internet offers an opportunity for many people engaged in this disgusting practice to advertise for playmates and to seek vulnerable young men and women. In America the Internet was used by an unbalanced woman to advertise for a sex partner to murder her, which he duly did. Despite the many obvious advantages of the Internet and the business opportunities it presents, it is generally acknowledged that there is no ability to control child pornography. Many other harmful activities can be found on the Internet.

The Government and the Opposition cannot agree on this Bill because of the need for confrontational politics in the Dáil. I have said repeatedly over the years that the confrontational nature of politics is detrimental to it. If this topic was discussed at committee level, we would reach a consensus because we all abhor child abuse and child pornography. The best way to deal with such issues is at committee level where we can reach consensus rather than allowing the Government to claim that it introduced a better Bill than the Opposition. As long as such subjects are discussed here, there will be disagreement over nothing to score points. A subject such as this should be above politics.

Although this Bill is commendable, it does not punish a person caught with offending material as long as he can claim it is for his enjoyment or titillation.

An amendment would rectify that.

I accept that. I understand the Minister will correct this in the Children Bill. The Fianna Fáil Bill will, however, focus the public's attention on this serious and depraved form of sexual gratification and alert the people to be on the lookout for anything connected with child pornography.

The Customs and Excise raided a warehouse in Dublin recently and seized £50,000 worth of dirty magazines. I know something about this business because for 40 years I was a retailer and a wholesaler in the newspaper industry. Some 40 years ago I was aware of the existence of a dirty book trade which came from England via Belfast and Newry into the south. There was and will always be punters for such material. The fact that £50,000 worth of dirty books was seized shows the extent of the market available to people peddling dirty books and pornography.

It is time extreme penalties were introduced to deal with this trade and children were afforded the protection a civilised society should always give them.

I agree with Deputy McGahon that the way the system operates makes it difficult for the Government to accept an Opposition Bill and amend it accordingly. Deputy Eoin Ryan knows that is the way the game is played, except in exceptional circumstances. However, that is not to take from what the Deputies are trying to do. I have often criticised Fianna Fáil for political opportunism. However, that is not the case on this occasion because this is worthwhile legislation. We all owe the two Deputies a debt of gratitude for allowing the subject to be aired in Private Members' Time. I hope the Government takes speedy action on this issue. I have spoken to Deputy Eoin Ryan on numerous occasions and I know how deeply he feels about the need to protect our children. Child pornography begins with postcards at seaside resorts on which little girls are portrayed in various states of undress supposedly enjoying their family holiday. They are perceived as being cute. However, it is not cute to expose our children to the scrutiny that certain people give postcards. What is considered to be cute, as Deputy McGahon said, provides titillation for others. Care has to be taken with that and with equating homosexuality with child abusers. That is wrong. The homosexual community has within its ranks, as does the heterosexual community, a percentage of people who take pleasure in abusing children. However, the majority do not abuse children; they are honest, decent people like the rest of us. I attended an assembly where for the first time I heard someone make sense of this mess. It is difficult because, as adults, we are charged first and foremost with the protection of the young.

What is most disturbing about these people who attack children, 99.9 per cent of whom are men, is they do not lurk in shadows and do not look any different from the rest of us. We cannot identify them and, therefore, protect our children from danger. This is why it is psychologically disturbing. At the assembly attended by 200 professionals we were first asked to describe a paedophile apart from the fact that it is usually male. The speaker wanted another characteristic; none of us could answer. He said they are neither rich nor poor, young or old, ugly or beautiful. They are just like everyone else and that is the problem. His next question was the one that hit home — describe his victim. Everyone could do that — a child usually without much self-esteem, introverted, isolated, in need of a friend and usually alone in a school playground. His point was that if the perpetrator cannot be identified but the victim can, resources should be put into ensuring there are no victims. Paedophiles look out for these characteristics. They stand outside school gates and watch children who are isolated and neglected. They enter homes, become friendly with the families and wait for years before they strike.

There is a need to instil in our children the ability and the confidence to say no. He told us that a child who is aggressive, arrogant, self-confident will tell either a teacher, parent or friend if a person says something to them that they do not like. Other social issues such as homosexuality must not be mixed up in this as they are not part of the problem. There have always been people who have turned to evil rather than good.

I hope when the Government introduces its amendments to the Child Care Act, 1991, it will take on board what has been said and that Opposition Deputies will be involved as they have such a keen and worthwhile interest in this issue. Deputy McGahon is correct in saying that we do not have to look to Belgium to find horrific stories of child abuse. It may be the latest one on the list, but we also have horror stories. Recently, I was told about a woman who was abandoned because she was pregnant. I want to ask her if she thinks she was abused. This Bill puts a value on mothers and children. If mothers are protected, so are children.

I congratulate both Deputies. It is a worthwhile topic and I hope it will be addressed quickly.

I wish to share my time with Deputy O'Dea.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Recent events in Belgium, England and in Ireland have highlighted the horror of child sexual abuse and the damage it does to children, families and the fabric of society. Tackling the problem of child sexual abuse demands action in many areas. The criminalisation of the possession of child pornography, as proposed in this Bill, is just one small step in the right direction.

Child pornography is, in effect, a record of child sexual abuse. The fact that the production of child pornography is part of the abuse of children means that criminalising its possession is one way of targeting the abusers and tackling the abuse. In the past addressing the problem of child pornography fell victim to consensus. While the majority of people agreed that it was fundamentally wrong and inherently evil, few Governments moved to outlaw its possession or distribution. The Johnson, Meese and Longford reports on both sides of the Atlantic grappled with the wider issue of pornography. Discussions inevitably became bogged down in disagreements on the causal link between pornography and violence as well as free speech and censorship considerations.

The reality of child pornography is that it cannot be produced without a child being sexually abused. Over past months I have raised this issue with the Taoiseach on Question Time in terms of it being looked at in a comprehensive way. This debate is part of that. It behoves us as legislators to try to deal with it. Failure to grasp that led to years of legislative confusion. While that confusion reigned, child pornography became established as a worldwide commodity. By the late 1980s dealing in child pornography had become illegal in almost every western nation, but unfortunately much of the damage had already been done.

I welcome the opportunity this Bill, put forward by my colleagues, provides to discuss this serious problem. I hope our comments will help generate a wider public debate on the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and increase awareness of the extent of the problem. For too long there was a refusal to discuss the possibility of the abuse of children, not to mind the possibility that people would seek commercial gain from it. The facts however have forced us to think and act otherwise.

Commercial child pornography developed in 1969 when Denmark removed all restrictions on the production and sale of any type of pornography. At that time two adult pornography producers claim to have launched the world's first child pornography magazine and were subsequently responsible for commercialising child pornography films. When Denmark reversed its decision in 1979 and banned the production, sale and distribution of child pornography, the two original producers had many rivals and the material was no longer confined to the domestic market.

Many child pornographic magazines include requests for new material thereby amounting to an incitement to purchasers to abuse more children. The magazines also provide a contact service for readers enabling them to advertise for child pornography and child sexual partners. The latter is evidence of the relationship between child pornography and paedophilia. Evidence of the link between child sex abuse and pornography is also available from other sources. There are three main ways in which pornography is used in connection with sexual abuse. First, it is shown to children to persuade them that they would enjoy certain sexual acts. Second, abusers show children child pornography to convince them that what they are being asked to do is all right. Third, some abusers use child pornography for their own arousal before abusing a child.

A 1988 Scotland Yard report stated that paedophiles often blackmail their victims. The existence of sexually explicit photographs can be an effective silencer. The report also supported the view that child pornography is used by abusers to normalise or legitimise the activity and convince the child that the activity is acceptable. An American study revealed that most paedophile rings are involved in the production of child pornography which serves to generate profit, establish links with other rings and entrap children by threatening to show pictures to their parents and others.

The United States postal service runs an extremely successful anti-child pornography programme. Its statistics show that at least 80 per cent of those it identifies as purchasers of child pornography are active abusers. Child pornography also serves to normalise the abuse for the offender, which is important to paedophiles — this point was stressed by an internal policy review report from the obscene publications branch of the British police. The report highlighted the fact that child pornography is normally one of the most important things in the life of a paedophile and he can never get enough of it. Collections are invariably carefully organised and documented. A paedophile may move his collection if he believes he is in danger of being discovered but rarely destroys it. A paedophile often has the need to share his collection with others either to get validation or to boast and brag.

Liz Kelly, a research fellow in a London child abuse studies unit, writing in an essay entitled "Pornography and Child Sexual Abuse" states:

What emerges from examining the production and use of child pornography is a pattern of mutually reinforcing connections. Child pornography is itself a document of abuse of one child. It is then used by abusers to reinforce their will to abuse. They may in turn show it to children they wish to abuse to secure their cooperation. Some of these children may, in turn, be photographed or filmed while being abused and/or trained to pose for pictures. The process then begins anew.

Child abuse and child pornography transcend all barriers, whether geographic, economic or intellectual. Children in all parts of the world are at risk of exploitation and involvement in pornography. However, the sex industry trades on inequalities. While children in general are vulnerable because they are seen by abusers as powerless, economically deprived children are even more at risk. Much child pornography uses children from poor countries and backgrounds. Just as with adult pornography, there are significant racist undertones to commercial pornography because the white male consumer is perceived to be more accepting of the abuse of women and children from African or Asian countries.

The common link between many of the children used in pornography is that they are trying to find ways to ensure their own physical survival. The threat to survival may come from poverty and homelessness or the threat of physical violence if they do not comply with requests. A study of child prostitution in three of the richest countries in the world revealed that almost all of the children had been asked at some point to pose for pornographic pictures or to appear in films. Many studies of homeless children show that a high proportion of them run away from home to escape physical and sexual abuse. It is sadly ironic that many of these children are then forced to sell their bodies to survive.

The American Government is one of the very few western governments to take the issue of child pornography seriously. The US Department of Justice estimates it to be worth between $2 billion and $3 billion a year. It also claims that pornography producers have filmed the abuse of more than one million children in the United States alone.

It is a mistake to think that child pornography is only commercially produced — nobody in this debate said that, but it is stated in many of the articles I have read over the years. Most child pornography is produced by small "cottage" industries run by abusers. They record their own abuse of children and this pornography may be kept as part of a private collection or shared and swopped with other abusers or reproduced and sold. It is easier, for both law enforcement and social reasons, to view child pornography as being distinct from adult pornography. However, this is not the case.

Some commentators have pointed to the way in which supposedly mainstream, soft porn magazines such as Playboy have developed devious ways of publishing pictures of children. This is done, for example, by including photographs of the centrefold Playmate as a child with sexually suggestive or provocative captions. It is time to challenge attitudes about child pornography which range from complacency to ignorance to a refusal to believe the extent of the problem. Moral outrage is powerless in face of the reality of child pornography. The reality is that an average police seizure of a so-called private collection of a paedophile will include 200 videos and thousands of slides and photographs. The abuse of children, some only toddlers, is broadcast live on the Internet. When one types the words "kiddy porn" for an Internet search, one finds more than 7,000 matches. This figure does not even begin to take account of the numerous supposedly innocent titles given to pornographic material in order to avoid detection. A more sinister development in recent times is the placing of child pornography on the Internet using websites normally associated with cartoon characters which are regularly accessed by children.

The Fianna Fáil Bill proposed by Deputies Eoin Ryan and O'Donoghue seeks to prohibit the possession, making or trading in photographs, images or literature of a pornographic nature relating to children. We know this Bill alone will not solve the problem. It is a measure to deal with a problem that is quickly moving into our society.

I have pointed out to the Taoiseach consistently that this is a complex issue demanding an examination of the wider censorship legislation. I am grateful he has responded positively to my suggestion that we establish a working group to generate public discussion on this area. I thank the Minister of State, who is involved in trying to deal with this issue, for his support.

Our hope is that this Bill will be go some way towards addressing the suffering of those involved in the production of the pornography and those children who are coerced in sexual activity through the use of child pornography. On that basis we urge the Government to accept it and follow it through in Committee with whatever amendments it deems useful. Our complacency and silence must no longer be allowed add to the powerlessness of the children harmed by pornography. It is time for their voices to be heard, and I know the House will join with me in those sentiments. I commend the Bill to the House.

I congratulate the proposers of this timely and legally sound legislation, Deputies O'Donoghue and Eoin Ryan, on their ingenious drafting of the Bill and for checking and re-checking it before bringing it to the House.

No one who has reached the age of reason can doubt that there is a causal link between pornography and child sexual abuse and that the former fuels the latter. Even if we were to doubt that proposition, we are prevented from doing so by our actions as a nation. For example, we have put in place an elaborate censorship system through a panoply of legislative, administrative and other measures. This system prevents sexually explicit and other material from reaching the public. If we seek to argue that sexually explicit material of a type banned by the censorship system is harmless, why exclude it? However, no one would argue that we should not exclude it. There is a causal connection between child pornography and child sexual abuse and this country believes and acts accordingly.

However, some sexually explicit material escapes the net put in place by the censorship system and reaches the various distribution agencies. Unfortunately, there is a gap in the law in this regard. Obviously this gap was not left there deliberately. It is an accidental oversight and this Bill is specifically designed to close that loophole in the law. The problem is that if sexually explicit material of a sort which should not reach the public slips through the censorship net, people who store it or have it in their possession for distribution or sale can possess, distribute and sell it for profit without attracting any criminal sanction. The possession for distribution, the distribution itself and the sale of such material is not a criminal offence and does not attract any criminal or penal sanction.

This glaringly obvious loophole has occurred accidentally or through an oversight rather than through a deliberate omission by any past Government. This Bill closes that loophole and strengthens the law. If the system provides that the storage and distribution of pornographic material is penalised and if the Garda can, on the making of a complaint, search premises where the material is or is reputed to be, and if people can be brought before the courts and dealt with severely for possessing such material for distribution or for distributing such material, it does not require a great leap of the imagination to conclude that the armoury the State deploys against this squalid business will be strengthened immeasurably. That is precisely what the Bill is designed to do.

I condemn the Government's disingenuous and deceitful attitude to the Bill. On the one hand it says it will not vote against the measure on Second Stage; on the other it says it cannot accept the Bill and will bring forward its own proposal. The decision not to vote against the measure is strictly for the optics. The Government does not want it said by the media and others that it voted against a measure to protect children from child sexual abusers by banning pornography. To make a good impression it has decided to support the Bill on Second Stage and jettison it thereafter.

In March 1995 the Minister, Deputy Taylor, said the Government had decided not to vote against a Private Members' Bill on defamation and that the Bill would be put into Committee Stage in the following November. That promise was not fulfilled and the Bill has not emerged yet — it has been buried and there it shall remain. There was another unfortunate experience on Deputy Mary Wallace's Bill to provide minimum facilities for disabled voters. The Government accepted the Bill on Second Stage but it dragged out Committee Stage almost interminably until it was shamed into accepting the legislation because of the imminence of a general election.

For those reasons I do not take seriously the promise of the Minister of State at various Government Departments, Deputy Currie, that he will amend the Children Bill to include measures such as are contained in this legislation. The Children Bill has been in gestation for many years and it did not occur to the Government that it should contain any provision on child pornography until this Fianna Fáil Bill was introduced. The Children Bill is designed to deal with something wholly different, juvenile crime and the facilities for juvenile offenders. It has nothing to do with child pornography and those who assist and serve it. It would be totally inappropriate to tag measures such as are contained in this legislation on to a Bill dealing with a different topic. The Government never intended to do so and I do not think it intends to now.

Last night the Minister said the Bill was so fundamentally flawed that it could not be repaired by a committee, regardless of how imaginative that committee might be. Even though this Bill was irreparably holed below the waterline, the Government decided not to oppose it. Let us examine these fatal flaws which render the Bill incapable of repair by any process of amendment. We should also remember that this defence for the Government's inaction is put up on the same day that it proposed no less than 105 amendments to its own Universities Bill, some of which involve the complete re-writing of various sections. That can be tackled on Committee Stage but the flaws in this Bill are so fundamental and fatal that they cannot be repaired. In 1989 and 1990 we spent months discussing the legislation which became the Companies Act, 1990. The Minister of State should know that about 350 amendments were made by the Government and Opposition to that Bill. We even considered amendments to amendments. I lost count of the number of amendments accepted to the Solicitors (Amendment) Act, which I had the honour of piloting through the House in 1993 and 1994. Yet we are told this Bill is so damaged that it cannot be repaired by any process of amendment.

I carefully examined the Minister's speech to discover these fundamental flaws which made the Bills irreparable. He said it had been prepared before the conclusion of the EU summit and, as a consequence, it did not go far enough. To say that a Bill is so flawed that it cannot be repaired simply because it does not go far enough is a downright falsehood. If the Government genuinely believes that the Bill does not go far enough, why not accept the Bill, as it is immediately urgent and necessary, and if there are areas in which it can be strengthened, why not bring forward proposals to amend it? That is the simple answer to that defence.

Another fundamental objection, which I could hardly believe when I heard it, was that the Bill was based on "an unsuitable legislative model". Are we to accept this as a serious objection? The reality is that the Bill is trying to strengthen the law to deal with the child pornography trade and thereby save both current and potential child victims from sexual abuse and exploitation. That problem, as Government backbenchers have acknowledged, exists in this country and it is growing, particularly in tandem with homelessness, in our major urban areas, but we are supposed to accept that the Bill has to be delayed until some indefinite time in the future because the proposal to strengthen the law and close the loophole is based on an unsuitable legislative model.

We are also told that we have not considered how the Bill fits in with the Censorship Act, 1929. The answer to that is blindingly obvious. It fits in with that Act by supplementing and augmenting our system of censorship because some of the filth the censorship system is designed to keep out slips through the net. This legislation is designed to deal with those into whose possession that material comes and who possess, distribute or sell it. From that point of view it deals with the problem whereby the material comes through the net put up by the censorship system.

We are told that another fundamental flaw in the legislation which makes it irreparable is that the definition section refers to photographic images instead of pseudo photographs. If I ever heard a pseudo objection, that is a typical example. The term "photographic images" is sufficiently wide to cover what is commonly known as pseudo photographs, but because the term "photographic images" is used in the definition section rather than "pseudo photographs", the Bill is fundamentally flawed and must be sent back to the drawing board.

We are told also that another so-called fundamental flaw is that the Minister of State at the Department of various things, Deputy Currie, is not sure whether "under 16 years" is the right definition of a child. Members will have different notions as to how a child should be defined in this context, but surely this is a typical example of what should be debated on Committee Stage. We have to include an age if we are defining the term "child" in the context of child pornography, but that is a debating point for Committee Stage. It is not such a fundamental irreparable flaw that it renders the Bill entirely nugatory.

We are told the legislation does not prohibit the sale of pornographic material, that it deals only with distribution. On my reading of the legislation it does prohibit the sale of pornographic material but if it does not, that is something we can debate on Committee Stage. It will take us a mere ten seconds to debate an appropriate amendment to include the words "distribution or sale". A two word amendment on Committee Stage will repair that so-called fundamental flaw.

I suspect when Minister of State Currie's scriptwriter read what he propounded as fundamental flaws it looked a bit skimpy, and he was right, so he decided to advance a few more excuses, going on Aldous Huxley's theory that the more excuses one has, the more convincing one is. However, it gets even better. The Minister of State said the penalties were a bit on the low side. That is the fundamental flaw that is supposed to prevent us taking urgent action now to protect children who are victims and potential victims. The Bill has been drafted and has reached the floor of the House but now it must now go back to the drawing board for an entirely different proposal because the penalties are a bit on the low side. This must be the first time in the history of parliamentary democracy that a Bill which had reached this stage has to go back to the drawing board to be redrafted because "the penalties are a bit on the low side".

We are also told that another fundamental flaw in the Bill is that it is not gender proofed. I have not read it closely enough to be in a position to comment accurately on whether it is but if it is not, and since we all believe in gender equality, it would take us approximately ten seconds to deal with that on Committee Stage.

The Minister will be aware these are bogus alibis for failure to take action now, particularly in this area. They are tawdry excuses for failure to accept amending legislation which would greatly enhance the State's efforts to combat this sordid trade. If one potential victim was saved by this Bill, would it not be worthwhile? I am surprised that Minister of State Currie, who has a proud civil rights record in another context, should allow himself to be used by the Government as a sort of man in the iron mask to block and delay necessary legislation, particularly in this area.

Those who will be well served by the Government's mean-minded obduracy are the practitioners of this squalid business and their fellow travellers who conspire with them by assisting them in their squalid activity. Those people who, by their own choice, involve themselves in this sordid trade, by providing the necessary aids and materials, will have cause to celebrate tonight while the children continue to suffer.

I congratulate Deputies Eoin Ryan and O'Donoghue for bringing forward the Bill. It is an opportune time, and not before time, that we examine the whole area of child pornography and the current status of our law. The Bill addresses an extremely important issue and identifies serious loopholes in the current halfhearted attempt to deal with the problem of child pornography.

Although the Bill creates a number of offences relating to the production, distribution, display and publication of child pornography it does not specifically criminalise the possession simpliciter of child pornography if it is not for distribution or for showing to others, but that could have been addressed by way of amendment. I note the Government has accepted the principle of the Bill and intends to bring forward its own legislation. The Government is trying to have it both ways and it would be fair to the Deputies who sponsored the Bill to accept it and put it into committee where it could be scrutinised and amended if that proves necessary.

Child pornography, abduction, prostitution and the sexual abuse of children by adults in authority should be regarded as a dimension of the same problem rather than as separate issues. We need to have a debate on the efficacy of our child sexual abuse prosecution policy generally. I have had cause to be disappointed and frustrated at the difficulty experienced in trying to get reliable data and statistics on child sexual abuse prosecution ratios from the Taoiseach's office and the Office of the DPP.

It must be remembered that children featured in child pornography may have been abducted and that the act which was photographed is a crime. International agencies have drawn the world's attention to the problem of the trafficking of children. Until the recent past, people in Ireland tended to think of the problem as one of First World paedophiles abusing Third World children. However, the recent scandal in Belgium has brought the matter of trafficking of children and their organised sexual abuse very close to home. That is all the more reason, therefore, for us to update our law and enact very stringent regulations to guard against the proliferation of child pornographic material.

Many paedophiles express no remorse, even when convicted, as for them their activities represent a perverse sexual preference. Therefore, it is debatable whether remedial treatment is of any use. It is mistaken and misguided to think that child pornography offers an acceptable outlet for those who would otherwise physically abuse children.

As I said, many pornographic images of children involve photographing the abuse of children which is, in itself, a crime. It might be said that this argument does not apply to computer generated images. However, even if this is so, it is very hard to think of any reason which would justify the legitimate possession of such images.

It is important to identify the market in Ireland. The authorities seized large amounts of pornographic material last year. I wonder if any prosecutions are pending in relation to that matter.

The Internet is a contemporary player in this area. It is widely recognised as a vehicle for the spread of child pornography and information about sex tourism and child abuse generally. In the UK the companies which provide access to the Internet launched an initiative seven months ago to clean it up and a hot line was set up for people to report instances of pornography on the Internet. There must be a role in this regard for the Irish service providers. There is no doubt that regulation of the Internet is complex and difficult, both on the technical level and in terms of maintaining a balance between free speech and censorship. However, the balance must ultimately weigh in favour of the protection of children and stopping the distribution of this material.

The horrors of the Belgian paedophile scandal has brought this whole matter closer to home. We need to look at our prosecution policy in relation to child abuse. It is very difficult to get hard facts about the level of prosecutions in child abuse cases. In a reply from the Minister for Health to a parliamentary question, I learned that in the three years from 1993 to 1995 there was a total of 6,050 complaints of sexual abuse of children to all the health boards, of which 2,003 were confirmed. Yet, when I asked the Department of Justice for separate details on prosecutions taken in the same period, I was told there was a total of 547 prosecutions. It is important for better co-ordination and statistical evaluation to be provided by the authorities of what happens to child abuse allegations after they are made to them. At the moment there is no dovetailing of information between the Department of Health, the Garda authorities and the DPP's office.

We need a debate on prosecution policy on child abuse. It has been impossible to find a vehicle for that debate because there is no annual report by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Many prosecutions are not taken due to lapse of time and alleged abusers can halt prosecutions for the same reason.

I welcome and support this Bill. We have recently moved to make it a criminal offence in this jurisdiction and to criminalise the activities of paedophiles who abuse foreign children and then hope to return to their normal lives here without being prosecuted. That is very good but we must examine our own prosecution rates which are not very healthy at the moment in terms of justice for children.

I do not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I join other Members in acknowledging the work of Deputies Ryan and O'Donoghue in introducing this Bill, which is rooted in concern for the protection of children against the evil trade of child pornography. I know this concern is shared by Members and by right thinking and decent people.

As Deputies are aware, Ireland is a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The primary focus of the convention is the best interest of the child. The individual whom the convention seeks to protect is the child in his or her natural, cultural and spiritual environment. The convention recognises children as human beings of equal value. It marks the end of an age old idea that children, at least in legal terms, are no more than possessions of their guardians.

It is possible to group the articles of the convention under three headings: provision, participation and protection. Provision is the right to have one's basic needs fulfilled, for example, the right to food, etc. Participation is the right to be heard on decisions affecting one's life. Protection is the right to be shielded from harmful acts or practices, for example, the right to be protected from sexual abuse or exploitation.

The convention is very strong on the provision and protection aspects. The trafficking of children and sexual abuse and exploitation are banned. Article 34 provides that states parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. Part 4B of the agenda for action approved by the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children builds on the article of the convention by providing for developing or strengthening national laws to establish the criminal responsibility of service providers, customers and intermediaries in child pornography, including the provision of child pornography.

In the context of technological developments which assist the distribution of child pornography, the main focus of attention is on the Interest. It is understandable that this should be the case and for many Members to refer to the problems related to that medium. Of course, measures need to be taken to effectively tackle abuse of the Internet for this purpose. However, there is a danger that by focusing too much on the Internet attention is distracted from other technological developments which are increasingly used by paedophiles.

I remind the House that during our Presidency of the European Union we, with Belgium, took a lead in addressing the child sexual abuse problem by making trafficking in persons and sexual abuse of children one of our Presidency priorities. The prioritising of this issue culminated in the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Brussels last month giving political approval to a number of important measures, the most relevant of which in the context of this debate is a joint action which obliges all EU member states to ensure, among other things, that the exploitative use of children in pornography is criminalised, including the production, sale, distribution and possession of child pornography.

One of the drawbacks of the Bill, of which there are a number, is that, despite its stated aims and objectives and what Deputies opposite claim, it would not criminalise the possession of child pornography for personal use. As the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, pointed out yesterday, the bulk of the Bill has been lifted straight from the English Protection of Children Act; sections of that Act are reproduced almost word for word. It is unfortunate, and indeed puzzling, that in one important respect the English law was not followed, which is the failure of the Bill to make it an offence to possess child pornography for personal use. However, I understand the English law is not readily adaptable to our situation and is not an appropriate model to follow. I am surprised indeed that Deputy O'Dea is making the case so strongly. I would have thought the days of blindly following English law were over.

This is rubbish.

There are other shortcomings in the Bill. One of the most glaring of these is its penalty provision of a maximum of only three years in prison.

It is better than nothing.

Deputy O'Dea spoke of this as being on the low side. I would call it lenient. It fails to reflect the seriousness of the issue before us. If we are really committed to tackling the problem in an effective way it is incumbent on us to bring forward legislation which sends out a strong signal that the sexual exploitation of a child in any manifestation will not be tolerated and that the penalties are capable of fitting the crime.

We are all agreed that legislative changes need to be made. One of the difficulties with the existing law in this area, that is, our general censorship laws, is that they are not comprehensive enough. In other words, they do not meet the need to deal with all aspects of the pornography problem, including, in particular, the need to criminalise the production, distribution and possession of child pornography.

The Government is committed to bringing forward detailed proposals on child pornography with a view to incorporating them into the Children Bill. That is a commitment that will be honoured. That Bill contains a number of measures designed to protect children and is a much more appropriate vehicle with which to address and progress legislative proposals of this nature.

The Children Bill will be debated in this House early in the new year and Deputies will have an opportunity then to debate it. This means the matter will be dealt with quickly. There will be no need, therefore, for this Bill to be progressed any further.

Deputy O'Dea urged that we continue on what I believe is an unrealistic approach and simply put this Bill into Committee. Unfortunately, changing the law is not as simple as that. I suspect that even Deputy O'Dea understands that. In an area such as this, it cannot be done without regard for existing law or without, for instance, making any necessary consequential amendments or repeals as the case may be to existing law.

What about the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill?

A subject of this nature should transcend party politics. We should not make a political issue of a matter of such seriousness. I am pleased, therefore, that the Government accepts the broad objective of the Bill and is not opposed to its Second Reading. I look forward to the debate on the Government's proposals early next year in the context of the Children Bill. That will be the effective result every Deputy in this House seeks.

I wish to take a few moments of Deputy O'Donoghue's time. I welcome the opportunity to voice my support for this legislation which is very important and should be enacted as quickly as possible. It is to the credit of Deputies John O'Donoghue and Eoin Ryan that this legislation has come before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Once again members of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party with the limited resources available to them drafted comprehensive positive legislation to tackle the very serious problems associated with the sexual exploitation of children.

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is one of the many horrendous crimes committed against humanity nowadays. The horrible nature of these activities is brought home to us all the more when we consider the victims, namely, innocent, defenceless children.

The criminalisation of the possession of child pornography is a proposal that meets with the approval of the overwhelming majority of the people. We must have the appropriate penalties to mete out to people who ply such a dreadful trade. The penalties proposed in the Fianna Fáil Bill are the proper ones. The growth in child pornography through various channels must be stopped, and the aim of society must be to eliminate this trade.

The Government should accept this Bill, and the measures in these legislative proposals should be enforced without delay. This is the type of legislative measure all Members of the Oireachtas can support, and support for this measure would reflect the general view of this subject. Similarly, the penalties to be imposed on these criminals should reflect the evil involved. The punishments proposed in this legislation are correct, and anybody who has those penalties meted out to them has earned such punishment. This Bill, if enacted by the Oireachtas, will be effective. It is needed and unnecessary delays should not occur in having it placed on our Statute Book.

Serious concern exists about child sexual abuse, and this Child Pornography Bill is one measure that can help in a very positive manner to tackle this most serious issue. This evil trade should not be allowed to be plied through magazines, photographs or the Internet. The message must go out from this House that people trading in child pornography will suffer the appropriate harsh penalties. The protection of children has to be given the utmost priority.

There is no greater illustration of the Machiavellian ministerings of the rainbow Coalition Government than the speech by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice in the Dáil last night. In as mean-spirited and gutless a response as has ever been witnessed in the House the Minister of State, speaking on behalf of the Government said:

The Government has no objection, in principle, to what this Bill sets out to achieve and for that reason is not opposing its Second Reading. I want to make it clear, however, that I will be proposing an alternative approach which will have the effect of achieving the Bill's objective, but in a more complete and effective manner.

The Minister of State at the Department of Justice is a very experienced politician who knows full well, as does the Government, that the place for putting forward amendments to legislation is in Committee. That has been the law here and in other jurisdictions for as long as anybody can remember. If the Bill has failings, amendments can be put forward in Committee.

It would appear the gremlins got in the way of the Bill in relation to the penalties. However, it would provide, in respect of a conviction on indictment, for a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment or a fine of £100,000. Irrespective of gremlins or anything else, if the Minister of State and the Government had amendments to make, the amendments could have been put forward on Committee Stage. Last night the Minister of State said our legislation was "seriously flawed". That amounts to a gratuitous insult which does not become the Minister of State, but it does fit neatly into the rainbow jigsaw. The Bill was presented in a spirit of magnanimity. It is not about politics, yet it was rejected because of politics. Political expediency and opportunism took precedence over the need to urgently legislate to protect the most vulnerable in our society. The Government was presented with a unique opportunity to enact a most vital piece of legislation to protect the defenceless in our society, and the Government played politics.

Let it not be forgotten that this is the Government that came to power on a wave of putative indignation over the delay in the Brendan Smyth case. It is a Government which has not produced one single Bill to protect children since then. The only legislation presented in this area was by Fianna Fáil in its Criminal Law (Sexual Jurisdiction) Bill, 1996. It is ironic and sad, and a damning indictment of the rainbow Coalition Government that on the day when the Criminal Law (Sexual Jurisdiction) Bill, 1996 was passed through the Seanad, on the day when the Bill was published as having been passed through both Houses of the Oireachtas, a Bill which was to buttress the legislation in respect of the possession of child pornography was shelved by the rainbow coalition Government.

When Deputy Eoin Ryan and I introduced the Criminal Law (Sexual Jurisdiction) Bill, 1996, its intention was to ensure that an individual who committed a sexual offence against a child abroad could be tried in this country. It was our intention to ensure that the possession of child pornography and its distribution would become a criminal offence with appropriate penalties.

The Government's response to our Bill is heartless and uncaring. Writing in the Bar Review in October 1996, an eminent member of the international organisation to end child prostitution, pornography and trafficking argued that criminalising the possession of child pornography would assist in finding child abusers. She pointed to the New Zealand experience where the authorities eventually began to trace paedophile networks by, instead of destroying the pornography seized, tracing its origins, where it was being sent, who was in the pictures and who was taking them.

When photographs and videos of child sex are exchanged between paedophiles, they learn from each other, sanction each other's behaviour and provide audio visual lessons to teach children such behaviour. Every year an estimated one million children world-wide are lured and forced into child prostitution. The UN rapporteur on child trafficking recently stated that the children being tricked into prostitution are younger and younger. Children aged nine, ten and 11 years of age are involved. Experts have warned that this trend will continue unless immediate action is taken. Child pornography is inextricably linked with paedophilia. A child is abused when an image or photograph is taken to abuse another child.

Ireland is not immune to the horrors of child pornography and paedophile rings. They exist in our cities and they regularly trade child pornographic material. They will continue to do so for as long as the Government buries its head in the sand. Yesterday's putative indignation, which supposedly gave birth to this wretched Government, has become today's stagnation.

This is the same Government whose Minister for Justice said that our Disposal and Restraint of Illicit Assets Bill, 1996, dealing with the freezing and disposal of assets, the subject matter of crime, was not only flawed but unconstitutional. She said on television that the powers we proposed were already law. I challenged her at the time to produce the Attorney General's opinion but she did not do so. In an about turn, reminiscent of the great retreat from Moscow, she accepted the Fianna Fáil Bill last July. She would not have done so but for the fact that she was stampeded into it by an outraged public and the Government grasping at straws.

I again challenge the Minister to produce the Attorney General's opinion on this Bill which states it is seriously flawed. While it is not perfect, the Bill is not flawed in the sense indicated last night by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice. In my opinion, it is constitutional. Everybody knows that it is also apposite and necessary.

The Minister and the Government have indicated that they will not oppose the Bill but will introduce their own measures. This is a fig leaf to cover the Government's blushes. Doubtless the Minister will introduce legislation based on our Bill, the essential provisions of which will be lifted. She will embroider it a little and present it as her own.

And pretend that it contains no English content.

I said last July that the Minister's long finger resembled Pinocchio's nose. In delaying this legislation she has decided to extend Pinocchio's nose. It is by no means the first time that a Fine Gael Minister has become involved in an unexplained extension. The Minister is on something of an extension herself. The public has become as weary of her machinations as it has of thrashing about in the dark to find the halo belonging to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. Full time early release for the Minister and the rainbow coalition Government is but the break of a ballot box seal away.

When the Minister declared to the House in early 1996 that she would not oppose Fianna Fáil's Misuse of Drugs Bill, 1996, we foolishly took her at her word. Instead she produced a poorly watered down version of Part I of our Bill and presented it to the House as the Drug Trafficking Bill, 1996. It was not the first time that we had witnessed such shameless plagiarism. In a desperate bid to rescue her Incest Proceedings Bill, 1995, from a labyrinth of despair, she lifted the essential provision of our Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (No. 2) Bill, 1995, to ensure that details of evidence could again be published in incest cases.

The Government subsequently gorged itself on Fianna Fáil Bills, such as the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution (No. 1) Bill, 1996, to provide for a bail referendum, and the Criminal Law (Bail) Bill, 1995, having earlier deemed both Bills to be superfluous. It is strange that what was superfluous last year became this year not only necessary but an absolute imperative. Even the most hardened political cynics and connoisseurs will be left gasping for breath at the sheer magnitude of the U-turns which we are witnessing by the rainbow coalition Government.

In this instance the Government has made the classical political error of assuming that because flowers smell sweeter than parsnips they will also make better soup. It will not take a chef to advise that the opposite is the case. If it does not believe this it should try to make soup with flowers. Some members of the Government have taken the soup. When a Bill such as this is accepted but rejected it would appear that politics and parliamentary democracy is debased. When a decent man, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, tells the House on behalf of the Executive that he is not opposing a Bill but will subsequently introduce his own Bill, the convulsions involved must, of necessity, cause the deepest concern to anybody worried about the body politic.

Last night, the Minister of State questioned why the Bill refers to photographic images and not pseudo photographs, as referred to in the English translation. The reference to photographic images captures pornography which is computer generated. Cartoon type, or any amalgamation of photographs, can give the impression that a child is involved in the pornographic material by juxtaposing a child's face on an otherwise adult body.

The Minister of State is not correct to suggest that the Bill does not inhibit the sale of indecent material or possession for personal use. A reasonable interpretation of section 2 would demonstrate that this point is covered. If the Minister of State or any other Member is satisfied that the Bill is not explicit or does not go far enough in relation to any item, it can be addressed on Committee Stage.

For the past two years we have been used to the intellectual bankruptcy which has forced the Opposition to produce almost every meaningful statute regarding the reform of criminal law here. In this instance intellectual bankruptcy has been compounded by moral bankruptcy.

Question put and agreed to.

How stands Committee Stage of this measure?