Criminal Law (Child Grooming) Bill 2014: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for offences in relation to the grooming of children for the purposes of sexual exploitation; to provide for matters connected therewith; and to give effect to Directive 2011/93/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on combatting the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and replacing council Framework Decision 2004/68/JHA.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for this opportunity to outline to the House the reasoning behind my Bill, which seeks to create an offence of child grooming for sexual exploitation and to explain to colleagues why such legislation is necessary. Through my work on the Oireachtas Joint Committee Justice, Defence and Equality and my contacts with front-line agencies, I believe such a move is necessary to tidy up the current laws to ensure the protection of children.

Deputies may note that while this is a short Bill, that does not take away from its important content. We all will be aware of the considerable levels of public concern about allegations of grooming on a large scale in Rotherham in England, especially allegations that many of those responsible have managed to evade justice. Deputies, however, may not be aware of the number of children shockingly being moved around our country to be sexually exploited, 30 of whom were detected over a two-year period. Members from all sides of the House will agree that we must ensure the most robust laws possible are in place to combat these heinous crimes.

The intention of this Bill is clear. Persons undertaking certain acts, including soliciting, requesting, counselling, encouraging, procuring or enticing a child under the age of 17 to do any act, including meeting an adult, shall be guilty of an offence. In addition, persons communicating with a child, by whatever means, with a view to gaining the trust of that child for the purpose of doing anything that would constitute sexual exploitation shall be guilty of an offence. To underline the seriousness of the crimes involved, such offences shall carry penalties on conviction not exceeding 14 years' imprisonment.

It is also important to note that while some of the public commentary around my proposals has been about online grooming, these offences would also apply to offline grooming so as to protect children in the general community and not only when they surf the net. It is worth noting that the proposed measures already enjoy cross-political support, with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in June of last year unanimously backing the creation of the offence as part of its review of the laws on prostitution.

Since placing the Bill in the public domain, I have been greatly encouraged by the number of people coming forward to support it and the endorsement it has received from front-line agencies, including the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Ruhama.

We now have an opportunity to ensure that those who seek to harm our children can find no hiding place in the law and cannot use legal confusion to escape justice. I am seeking the support of all Deputies for this Bill. The creation of the offence not only reflects the unanimous view of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality but will also bring Ireland into line with European directives. We must build on the political consensus already achieved. It is my hope we quickly move to establish this offence and ensure there is no escape for those who want to prey on children.

Is the Bill opposed?

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.