That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to regulate and restrict, where appropriate, sex offenders from travelling abroad, in the interests of the common good and to protect persons from serious harm outside the State, to amend the Sexual Offenders Act 2001 and to provide for related matters.
First, I want to acknowledge and thank those who worked hard on this Bill, in particular, Maeve Ní Liatháin of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for her research paper, David Dodd, who drafted the amendment Bill, the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser and Ciaran O'Brien in my own office, who also worked on this legislation.
Ireland has a dark past when it comes to children. We have had the industrial schools, the mother and baby homes and other institutions where children were abused physically, emotionally and sexually. We then had the abuse of children by sports coaches, some of whom were brought to court, convicted and imprisoned.
Others, like Mr. George Gibney, never faced justice. There are cases of abuse in families by parents and other relatives. This week, in another case, 11 people were arrested in Limerick for the alleged exploitation of children. We have seen more and more of that. We are seeing children being robbed of their childhood, innocence and sense of self-esteem, dignity and self-worth.
There has been progress in Ireland with respect to protection. We have had the children's referendum and we have the Ombudsman for Children, as well as procedures, policies and guidelines. We have Child First guidelines and organisations like Childline. There are still many countries in the world with no protection of children and where children are used and abused horrifically, with children as young as four and five years old being raped. In those countries, children are being abducted and trafficked for the sex industry, to be used in brothels and pornographic films, as well as cybersex. This abuse is predominantly done by men but some women are involved. They are from Ireland, the UK, Australia and the US. There are hundreds of thousands of so-called sex tourists in those many countries where there is no child protection or welfare, only help from organisations like the PREDA Foundation.
My amending Bill seeks to protect children in those countries from being used sexually by people convicted in Irish courts of child sexual abuse. It does this by restricting their ability to travel to do so. In 2016, almost 800 registered sex offenders in Australia travelled to those countries, so Australia introduced legislation to stop that happening in future. It was the first country to do so. Global studies have found an expansion in sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, and that expansion is outpacing every attempt to respond at national or international levels. There have been court cases involving western men being convicted of buying children for sex and pornography. These crimes are unthinkable and inexcusable.
In correspondence, the Government stated to me that it wanted to combat child sexual abuse in every possible way. That was discussed earlier today at Leaders' Questions. My amending Bill would empower judges to restrict, where appropriate, the travel of those convicted of child sexual offences where it is deemed that travel could pose a risk to vulnerable persons in jurisdictions outside this State that do not have adequate child protection and child welfare legislation. It would amend the 2001 Act in a technical way to make specific changes on a case-by-case basis. It would allow judges to make travel restrictions, or not, depending on the circumstances of individual cases.
The judge would assess the risk posed by a convicted individual and restrict travel where necessary. The judge could also consider if the offender has engaged in any meaningful way with a rehabilitation process. I acknowledge such processes that exist in prisons and the community. I know the Garda and Tusla work with probation services on risk assessment plans for those who genuinely want to engage in the process. This amending legislation would assist that process in that as a person in recovery from alcoholism is advised not to go near a pub, those convicted of child sexual offences would be helped not to go to countries where child abuse would be very possible. Those who travel to exploit children are very likely to continue that exploitation when they return to the country of origin.
This is about limiting and restricting travel and so it respects the right to travel in our Constitution. There are minimal changes involved with the amendment to the 2001 Act but they will make a difference. This is about protecting children in other countries in the same way we protect children here. This will mean Ireland would be the first country in the European Union to do it and I hope the legislation will be supported.