Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Apologies are owed to the staff of the Oireachtas for the lateness of the hour at which this business is being taken.

I wish to thank my colleagues in Independents4Change for facilitating me this evening in trying to progress the Bill. It is a Bill about protecting children, in particular from those who, for various reasons, sexually abuse children.

Ireland has a horrific past in terms of protecting and guarding children. That is evident from events in the industrial schools, mother and baby homes, Magdalen laundries and some foster homes. However, Ireland has come a long way in terms of ensuring the safety of children and progress is being made in regard to child welfare and protection. We have the Children First Act, child protection procedures for primary and post-primary schools, child safeguarding statements, designated liaison officers in schools and Garda vetting of those working with children. Although there are still gaps and room for improvement, imagine what it must be like for children in countries where they have no protection, child welfare or safeguards. The Bill is about trying to protect children who are easy prey for sexual predators in countries where the authorities cannot or will not protect them.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises a child as being a person under the age of 18. Trafficking is the third biggest illegal industry, after arms and drugs, and accounts for billions of dollars annually. The number of trafficked children is conservatively estimated at 4.5 million and statistics indicate that 2 million children are lured or abducted into sexual exploitation, which is modern day slavery. It is incredible that we are discussing child sexual abuse using seemingly contradictory terms such as industry and tourism. However, the consequences for the affected children are horrific. There are physical, mental, emotional and psychological consequences and children may suffer from suicide, depression, addiction and sexually transmitted illnesses, including HIV and AIDS.

The abuse occurs in countries such as India and many in South-East Asia, Latin America, South America, the Caribbean and Africa. The common denominator is poverty and a lack of education. Child sexual abuse is about manipulating and exploiting vulnerabilities. There have been many high-profile cases but I will mention only one, that of a seven year old child who was sold to a former American marine. The former marine was eventually extradited from South-East Asia and is serving a very extensive prison sentence in the United States. There are records of the sale of virgin girls and of organised sex rings.

A report by Ending Child Prostitution and Trafficking International, ECPAT, states that child sex tourism has drastically increased. One of the main reasons is that the increase in global travel has created more opportunities for abuse. The profile of offenders has also changed. The stereotypical offender was a white, wealthy, western middle-aged man, although some offenders were women. Although some offenders still fit that profile, there are also situational offenders, persons who do not seek to sexually exploit children but will do so if given the opportunity. Such situational offenders may be business travellers or migrant transient workers. The promotion of tourism in these poorer countries for economic growth is bringing more and more westerners to places in which there is little or no regulation or policing but more and more children available for sex. I read of an organisation that offers sex tours with stops at bars and restaurants that are fronts for child prostitution. It described the sex tours as being like going to McDonalds: there is a menu to choose from, it is quick and it is cheap.

I wish to refer to the work of Irish priest, Fr. Shay Cullen, who is directly involved in rescuing children from the sex tourism industry in the Philippines and supporting children affected by it. At a recent press conference, he spoke of what has been happening through the dark web and the rise in child pornography. To join a photo-sharing paedophile club on the dark web, applicants must submit pictures of children being abused. Some clubs insist on the applicant showing himself perpetrating the abuse. To get the images, men travel to countries where there is ample opportunity to photograph and video such abuse. The images then give them a pass to access further unlimited images. This requirement to provide pictures is fuelling travel to poorer countries. Cyber sex is on the increase. Fr. Cullen spoke about five and six year olds being abused over the Internet. The abuse is carried out to order and customers around the world pay per view through money transfer companies.

In 2017 it emerged that some 700 to 800 Australian male convicted child sex offenders were travelling annually to countries in South-East Asia such as the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand. Following the revelation, the Australian Government acted by passing the Passports Legislation Amendment (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) Act in 2017. It was introduced in the Australian Parliament on 14 June 2017, passed by both Houses on 20 June and received assent on 26 June 2017. The Act allows a competent authority of the Australian Government to request its Minister for Foreign Affairs to refuse to issue, cancel or order the surrender of a person's Australian passport if the person's name is on a child protection offender register. The purpose is to prevent reportable offenders from travelling overseas to sexually exploit or abuse vulnerable children in places where those activities are not monitored.

I wish to thank Maeve Ní Liatháin of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, David Dodd of the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser and Ciaran O'Brien in my office for their work on the Bill. It is a tricky situation for which to legislate because of the constitutional right to travel and a good example of unintended consequences because, although it is wonderful to have the right to travel, one can be sure that the constitutional amendment is not intended to grant a right to travel in order to abuse children in other countries when one has been convicted of child sexual abuse in one's own country. To state the situation using commercial jargon such as demand, market and supply, we have no ability to target the supply side in other countries.

We agree we could do more in terms of demand but what we can do also is protect children by preventing access to the markets by abusers.

Child sex tourism is linked with trafficking and organised crime in many countries. It is in countries that carry low detection and low conviction rates, both here and internationally, so these child abusers know they are carrying a low risk when they engage with the child sexual trade abroad. Hence, there is a greater need for the Irish authorities to do more to prevent access to vulnerable children.

The purpose of the Bill is 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. It seeks to do that by increasing the powers of judges. It is not an outright ban on travelling. Currently, there are a number of ways convicted sex offenders can be prevented from travelling but an important feature of this Bill is the way in which it redefines protection from serious harm to mean physical or psychological harm caused by the person committing a sexual offence. The current definition of "serious harm" is very restrictive, therefore, this Bill is making it stronger.

Regarding the impact on the right to travel, at least at an international law level, restrictions to human rights are permitted as long as they adhere to the standards of legality, necessity and proportionality. If the Bill is passed, the legality element will be fulfilled. The emphasis on judges' discretion will go to the necessity aspect, and proportionality is covered as the restriction will be on a case-by-case basis. If, on the next Stage, certain countries can be highlighted such as those which lack adequate child protection rather than an outright ban on travel, that will also cover proportionality.

ECPAT International has done a lot of work on balancing the right to privacy of a convicted child sex offender with the need to protect children. One of the recommendations in a particular report states that every restrictive measure for convicted travelling sex offenders should be adopted on a case-by-case basis with the assessment of a multidisciplinary team - judicial, psychological and the police. That would also be in keeping with the legislation in approximately 40 countries whose citizens can be prosecuted for child sexual abuse committed while those citizens are abroad. The difficulty is that in those countries where the child sexual abuse is taking place, it is happening with impunity because the authorities, including the police, are involved.

Even though 173 countries signed the optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in May 2016, there is continued widespread child sex tourism, with well-known child sex tourism destinations. At this point, convicted offenders can travel from Europe to those countries to abuse children.

There is a need to put child protection at the core of tourism strategies. Work and training is going on, including in Ireland, for those working in hotels on what to recognise in regard to child sexual abuse and how to identify potential sex tourists. The organisation doing that in Ireland is Mercy Efforts for Child Protection Against Trafficking in the Hospitality Sector, MECPATHS. Some organisations are working on a corporate policy for employers to state they will not knowingly engage in the sexual exploitation of a child.

There are varying theories on working with paedophiles and child sex offenders but I want to mention the programmes in Ireland for child sex offenders. I spoke to somebody who works in those programmes. He spoke of that moment of insight into the behaviour and an awareness of what they were doing in terms of the damage and then the genuine motivation to seek amends and work on the behaviour. That is very valuable work.

In the same way that somebody who is in recovery from alcoholism would be advised not to go near a bar or a pub and somebody recovering from a gambling addiction will be advised not to go near a bookies or somewhere they can bet, equally, for a child sex offender, it would be very helpful for their recovery that they are restricted in being able to travel to countries where children are readily available for sexual abuse.

I want to mention women who are trafficked into this country for the purpose of prostitution. A common denominator among them is that the prostitution began when they were children. They owe their lives to organisations like Ruhama.

I read the Minister's amendment and I will address that when I am concluding the debate, but this Bill is about vulnerable children and giving them the opportunities to develop their potential and not have it cut short by men, many from our country and from other countries in Europe.

I am delighted to be able to contribute briefly to the debate on this important Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2018, brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan. I commend Deputy O’Sullivan and her staff, as well as the Oireachtas staff, on the work they have done on this Bill and on highlighting the issue and the need for such a Bill.

The Bill before us today would amend the Sex Offenders Act 2001 to give the Judiciary the power to restrict the travel of convicted sex offenders to countries where there may be much lower child protection standards. Sections 16, 27 and 30 of the 2001 Act would therefore be amended.

Section 2 of the Bill outlines the amendment to section 16 of the 2001 Act whereby subsection (5) provides for the person committing offences outside of the State, which would constitute a sexual offence under Irish law. Section 5 amends section 30 of the 2001 Act and inserts a new section 30B providing for the offender to make an application if they want to leave the State or that a probation and welfare officer may make an application. This wording gives the power to the judge and the court to use their discretion in granting or refusing the application.

This Bill is the result of work Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan has done with Fr. Shay Cullen, the very worrying growth of sex tourism markets in developing countries and the urgent need to protect children and vulnerable people in the countries where there is a prevalence of sex tourism. Fr. Cullen founded the People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance Foundation, PREDA, in the Philippines and has been working with trafficked women and children since 1969. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for that outstanding work on four occasions. If this Bill passes and is enacted, we would be the first European country to restrict the travel of convicted sex offenders and we would be following Australia’s lead internationally.

Fr. Cullen, who has worked tirelessly in the Philippines for 50 years, has said that children in the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia in particular need to be protected from predatory paedophiles. There may be issues, to which Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan referred, around the constitutional right to travel and how some of the countries I mentioned would be identified. We have the example of Australia, and Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan can address all these issues in her concluding remarks. They can also be discussed on Committee Stage following passage through Second Stage. It is important that the House takes the step to pass this legislation on Second Stage.

Fr. Cullen has told us that globally, approximately 4.5 million children are trafficked every year and that the horrendous trafficking business is worth at least $32 billion. It is mainly women being trafficked and it is estimated that more than one third are children. UNICEF estimates that in the Philippines alone, approximately 60,000 children are abused every year. Fr. Cullen has warned us that an increasing number of Irish bars are opening in the Philippines, that the sex tourism trade from here is growing and that there are already reported increases of people travelling from the European Union, America and Australia to these areas to exploit children and vulnerable people.

As I mentioned, Australia has already passed legislation, the Passports Legislation Amendment (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) Act 2017, which restricts the travel of sex offenders with reporting obligations. Not only does the Australian law restrict their travel but it makes it an offence, with a maximum penalty of five years, to travel or to try to travel without authorisation. If offenders have a legitimate reason to travel they may apply and once their reporting obligations have finished, they will then be able to apply for a passport. The importance of the Australian Act of 2017 was confirmed when it took effect immediately, in December last year, by stopping a convicted paedophile from travelling. There are approximately 20,000 registered child sex offenders with reporting obligations in Australia, and the south-east Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are easily accessible to Australians. The Australian justice Minister, Michael Keenan, said that during 2016 approximately 800 registered child sex offenders travelled overseas and that over one third of them did so without permission.

Reports last year found that there were almost 200 sex offenders living around Ireland and being monitored by An Garda Síochána. According to the Irish Prison Service’s statistics, at the end of November there were 377 prisoners in custody for sex offences - 376 male prisoners and one female.

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan has drafted this Bill to allow for the judges' discretion in taking into account the offenders engagement in the rehabilitative process. We must acknowledge the work being done by mental health services, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, other organisations and volunteers in our communities who are working with sex offenders during their sentences, probation and release to support them in not reoffending and thereby making communities safer.

This Bill is not about restricting a constitutional right to travel but about protecting children and vulnerable women in countries where protection laws and their implementation are not sufficiently robust. The Sex Offenders Act 2001 addresses the monitoring of sex offenders from other jurisdictions who may move to Ireland. Information is shared with Interpol to ensure that sex offenders from other jurisdictions who are subject to reporting requirements must inform An Garda Síochána and continue with their reporting obligations here. Fr. Shay Cullen from Glenageary has highlighted cases in the Philippines of missionaries and activists being arrested and threatened with deportation for being engaged in "political activities". Such activities include advocating for people’s basic human rights. Fr. Cullen has previously expressed concern as to why certain businesses are allowed to continue to operate and has made allegations about bribery. The PREDA foundation rescues girls from brothels and boys, 15 years old and younger, from detention cells. It houses around 35 boys and 40 girls in separate homes and helps them to overcome the traumas they have endured. Children receive education and counselling, have emotional release therapy and are encouraged and supported to file legal complaints if they so wish. The PREDA foundation also has a fair trade project, working with local farmers and indigenous communities to sell and market their mango products. Fr. Shay Cullen and his team are doing amazing work. It is heartbreaking to think that his organisation has been in demand for so long and that the demand is not waning. This Bill will help Fr. Cullen and others who work to protect vulnerable women and children in many countries in south Asia and elsewhere. We owe it to them to take all measures necessary to stop sex tourism. I commend Deputy O’Sullivan and her staff on bringing this Bill forward and I am delighted to support it.

I move amendment No.1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

“Dáil Éireann resolves that the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2018 be deemed to be read a second time this day twelve months, to allow for scrutiny between now and then by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality and for the Committee to consider submissions and hold hearings that have regard to the need to ensure that:

(a) the proposed Bill does not give rise to Constitutional difficulties, or difficulties under the European Convention on Human Rights or European Union law;

(b) the proposed Bill strikes a balanced and measured approach in relation to competing rights;

(c) in particular, the rights of a citizen or a resident of the State who has been convicted of a sex offence are balanced with the need for protection of vulnerable members of society both in Ireland and other jurisdictions;

(d) the extent and scope of any restrictions on travel forconvicted sex offenders to other states are fully examined;

(e) the question of how a restriction on travel to other states by a convicted sex offender could be administered and supervised is examined; and

(f) the experience of other jurisdictions which have introduced similar legislative provisions is taken into account; and

to fully discuss and explore other practical issues and consequences that may arise as a result of the proposals.”.

I thank Deputy O’Sullivan for introducing this legislation. I very much appreciate the Deputy's intentions in bringing forward these proposals and I share her concern that a sex offender convicted in this country be prevented from causing further harm, not just here but also abroad. I know that in making these proposals the Deputy is most concerned with countries where child protection would not be at the same level as here in Ireland. The prevention of further harm by a convicted sex offender after release from prison is what underpins the current system of notification and monitoring under the Sex Offenders Act 2001. That Act provides for the monitoring of convicted sex offenders after they have been released from prison. Such individuals are required by law to provide to An Garda Síochána details such as their address. Failure to comply with these requirements is an offence. As part of the notification requirements, sex offenders must also notify An Garda Síochána if they intend to travel outside of this jurisdiction for seven days or more. The intention behind this is for the relevant authorities in their destination to be notified of the presence of a convicted sex offender in that jurisdiction. I recognise that the current provisions, while effective in many respects, are not the same as what Deputy O'Sullivan has proposed here. The current system works particularly well in circumstances where there is good co-operation already, like that between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI in Northern Ireland and where there are very high standards of child protection, including across the EU. I am acutely conscious, however, that this may not be as effective in countries where there are inadequate protections for vulnerable people, including children, who may be exploited in an abhorrent and totally unacceptable way by relatively wealthy foreigners. In particular, child abuse is an utterly depraved crime. I share Deputy O’Sullivan’s commitment to seek to prevent such abuse from taking place and commend the Deputy on her commitment to this issue which she has discussed with me in the past. I also acknowledge the work of Fr. Shay Cullen and his team in Asia and in the Philippines in particular and thank him for what he is doing on the international stage to further the protection of children. He is a great ambassador for Ireland who has been in this House on a number of occasions in the company of Deputy O'Sullivan. On behalf of the Government, I am anxious to ensure that we explore this legislation further in an effort to advance the proposals contained therein.

The Bill proposes to give the court the power to impose restrictions on the travel abroad of a convicted sex offender who is subject to the requirements of the 2001 Act. The Bill would give a judge the power to restrict foreign travel entirely or to require an application to be made to the court for permission to travel. This would go significantly further than existing restrictions and I am advised that there are legal and practical implications that must be considered. In the first instance it is the duty of the Oireachtas to ensure that any legislation is compatible with the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. We must also take account of the current policies and procedures of stakeholders, in this case An Garda Síochána and the probation and welfare aervice, although the Legislature is vested with the power to legislate and I fully respect that mandate.

Deputy O’Sullivan and I have engaged on this issue before and I fully recognise that the Bill as drafted seeks to address some of the constitutional concerns previously raised. However, I am advised that there are problems remaining from a legal perspective as well as some practical issues and accordingly, I believe that a pre-legislative scrutiny exercise by the relevant Oireachtas committee would allow these issues to be worked through while retaining the principle at the heart of the Bill which is to prevent harm and protect the vulnerable, particularly children. The Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality may wish to bring in experts to inform its deliberations, which would be most valuable. I would ask the Deputies opposite to engage with me in that process. The committee might also consider the potential legal implications under the Constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights in terms of balancing the rights of a convicted offender, post-release, with the need to protect people from harm. I would also request the committee to look closely at examples from other jurisdictions where such measures are in place to determine how they are enforced and whether they have faced any legal challenge. In that context, I was interested to hear what Deputies O'Sullivan and Broughan said about the current situation in Australia. Deputy O'Sullivan indicated that similar legislation was enacted pretty speedily in Australia. We can look at that process and I would be happy to give the matter further consideration. Engagement such as I am proposing at the Oireachtas committee might put us in a position to advance this Bill in a speedier manner than might be suggested by my amendment. I would also hope that the committee would have regard to how such a system can be implemented practically and how it can avoid inadvertent consequences. It is important that convicted sex offenders who are making genuine efforts to be rehabilitated are not subject to restrictions which could impede this, for example, where an offender has served a sentence and is living on one side of the Border on this island but working on the other, or where such restrictions would interfere with the right to family life, albeit of a cross-jurisdictional nature.

In my view, pre-legislative scrutiny presents an important opportunity to answer these questions after in-depth consideration. The outcome of that process should then inform a Second Stage discussion of the proposals in this Bill.

It is important to note that the Government has been examining closely the current provisions under the 2001 Act. I intend to bring a draft general scheme of a sex offenders (amendment) Bill before the Government shortly. The aim of this legislation will be to amend the 2001 Act on foot of a review of the management of sex offenders under that Act. It will include a number of amendments to the notification requirements under the 2001 Act, including stricter notification requirements such as requiring offenders to notify the Garda of a change of address within three days as opposed to the existing seven days. The Bill will provide for the enhanced supervision of high-risk offenders, including through electronic monitoring in limited circumstances. The Bill will permit the necessary disclosure of information relating to an offender where there is a genuine risk to the public. In bringing my proposals to the Government, I recognise that there are improvements to be made to the current system. It is in the spirit of making improvements, exploring every opportunity to make sure we have a robust body of law that protects children and ensuring this country can play its part on the international stage, as is the intention of the Bill that has been proposed by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, that I am proposing the amendment I have set out this evening.

I acknowledge the role that Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan has played in this process and the important contribution her Bill is making to the protection of children on the international stage. I hope we will have an opportunity in the coming months to engage further on this legislation with the aim of making appropriate improvements to ensure we end up with a constitutionally sound and legally robust Act. I trust this House will have an opportunity to discuss this further at the earliest opportunity.

I would like to share time with Deputy Breathnach.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I commend Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on the introduction of this Bill, which seeks to empower our courts to make orders restricting the travel of sex offenders where it is deemed that such travel could pose a risk to vulnerable people in jurisdictions that do not have adequate child protection and child welfare legislation and services. It is undoubtedly true that people who have been convicted of sex abuse in this State are travelling to other countries to abuse children. We have an obligation to protect such children. The work of the PREDA Foundation in this area has to be commended. Fianna Fáil supports this Bill in principle. I acknowledge that Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan has addressed some constitutional issues that may exist. Fianna Fáil shares her concerns while believing they can be ironed out. In particular, consideration will have to be given to whether the provisions of this Bill amount to a breach of the constitutional right to travel. We will submit amendments on Committee Stage to help to improve and strengthen the Bill in this respect.

Sex offenders travel to certain countries because they know they can engage in the sexual exploitation of children with relative impunity in those jurisdictions. According to ECPAT International, which is a non-governmental organisation that campaigns against child sex tourism, child sex tourism is prevalent in more than 24 countries, with the worst affected locations being in South America and south-east Asia. UNICEF estimates that 2 million children throughout the world are exploited sexually every year, which is just horrific. As we know, Australia has become one of the first countries to place restrictions on convicted paedophiles who seek to leave the country. It has done this with a view to protecting children in other countries. If child sex tourism is to be tackled, there needs to be a co-operative global effort. Through this Bill, Ireland certainly has the capacity to be at the forefront of this effort.

According to a global study on the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, or SECTT, which was carried out in the Netherlands:

Europe remains the number one tourist destination, welcoming more than half of the world's tourists in 2013, and there are suggestions that children's vulnerability to SECTT is on the rise. Western European countries have long been sources of travelling child sex offenders... but some are now destinations. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe are emerging as source and destination countries - often lacking the laws to protect children that exist elsewhere in the region.

The report continues:

Twenty years ago, it might have been possible to sketch a rough global map showing where international travelling sex offenders were from, and where they were going. Today, the distinctions between countries of origin and countries of destination are blurring. Terms such as country of 'origin', 'destination' or 'transit' are rapidly becoming outdated - countries can be any of these, or even all three, at different times. SECTT is now mainly a domestic and intra-regional crime, and can be found in both the world's most developed and least developed countries. What matters is where children are victimised everywhere. Given that two decades of efforts have failed to put a dent in SECTT, that more children than ever before are being affected and that no country is immune, the Global Study highlights the need to re-frame this issue - looking beyond what was once referred to as 'child sex tourism'. This means broadening the scope of policies, programmes and research to include tourism and travel (whether international or domestic), and identifying and addressing what it is, exactly, about travel and tourism, that leaves children so vulnerable to exploitation.

In 2016, the Government gave a commitment to introduce "stronger sanctions aimed at protecting children from sexual exploitation, child abuse material and online grooming" and to "enhance the arrangements... for post-release supervisions". The Fine Gael-led Government has failed to honour these commitments. As we have seen in the first four months of 2018, it is continuing to fail to protect children from the most abhorrent crimes. In January, we learned that a 26 year old, Matthew Horan, had used numerous social media sites to gather thousands of images of children as young as nine. In February, the Garda Inspectorate published a report which found that too few gardaí are deployed to try to catch sexual abusers of children and online groomers and that the Garda Síochána has been slow to make the necessary changes in its approach to child abuse crimes. In March, we heard the shocking news that 11 people had been arrested in Limerick as part of an investigation into a child sex ring. In April, there was a public outcry when a former civil servant who had been caught in possession of almost 60,000 child pornography images and videos escaped a jail sentence.

Although Fianna Fáil welcomed the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, we do not believe the Act goes far enough. Part 2 of that Act introduced new offences relating to the sexual exploitation of children, including online grooming. If the gardaí are not resourced to police the Internet, these criminals will continue to go undetected. Part 3 of the 2017 Act introduced increased maximum sanctions for those convicted of sexual offences against children. While increased maximum sentences for these awful crimes are welcome, the Government's failure to establish a sentencing commission means there continues to be huge inconsistency in the sentences handed down in cases of this nature. Indeed, on 27 April 2018, Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh, while sentencing a man convicted of the repeated rape of his granddaughter, described the lack of sentencing guidelines as "bizarre". The Government must face up to the fact that it is continuing to fail our children. If Fianna Fáil were in government, it would help to address this situation by establishing a judicial sentencing commission to issue sentencing guidelines, promote clarity and consistency in sentencing and improve public confidence in the system. We would look for more vigorous post-release supervision of convicted sex abusers. We would resource the Garda Síochána properly to enable it to target child sex abusers effectively, particularly online. We would resource the Internet safety office within the Department of Justice and Equality properly too. We would also establish a digital safety commissioner. Having said that, we commend Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and we support this Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation and I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for introducing it.

As my colleague, Deputy O'Loughlin, has said, Fianna Fáil will support this Bill in principle but will submit amendments on Committee Stage to improve and strengthen it. I welcome the suggestions and amendments proposed by the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan. I came to this House in the hope that new politics could work and I am quite sure that with an important matter like this, all heads, whether Independents or in all parties or none, can find a solution to an increasing problem that must be tackled as soon as possible. We all know there needs to be a concerted effort not just by politics in this House, but globally, to bring a halt to child sex tourism. This Bill will allow Ireland to come to the fore in this effort.

Deputy O'Loughlin referred to instances relevant to Ireland and only this weekend in my own constituency there were two violent sex offenders, with one being a child rapist. They were both apprehended in the North of Ireland after travelling there from the South. They had been sighted in various locations over the previous days, including Limerick, Cork and several places in County Louth. Their successful arrest arose from a concerted effort by the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, coupled with the concerns in communities that knew of their existence and the positive aspects of social media. Despite the way in which they were detained in advance of the PSNI arresting them being unacceptable in that they were "tarred and feathered" and left tied to a bench, we must be pleased there was a successful outcome in this instance. Many sex offenders manage to escape our jurisdiction and they are then free to commit crimes elsewhere. It is alleged the person at the centre of the Garda Tony Golden slaying was able to move freely from the North to the South despite his terrible depravity and issues arising from his conduct as a sex offender. He was able to move in and out of the jurisdiction unhindered.

We all know there are more than 24 countries where child sex tourism is prevalent. As others have said, the worst affected locations include South America and south-east Asia. My colleague commented on UNICEF's figure of 2 million children being exploited globally each year. Coupled with Deputy Broughan's figures for the people in jail in this country, as well as sex offenders not in jail, it seems we must be at the fore in preventing an escalation in rates of a heinous crime against young children. I appreciate that we cannot legislate for all those travelling, and particularly those with no convictions, but we should certainly aim to stop registered sex offenders from travelling abroad to carry out offences.

There are currently a number of ways in which convicted sex offenders can be prevented from travelling overseas following release from prison, including the provisions of the Sex Offenders Act 2001. It is possible to impose an order on a convicted sex offender that would prohibit the person from doing one or more things as specified in the order, including travelling outside Ireland or to a specific country. I refer specifically to the Bill and welcome the changes proposed in sections 2 to 5 that deal with court orders against sex offenders, including post-release supervision orders and protecting persons outside the State from sex offenders travelling to commit crimes. I also welcome in particular the imposition of a condition so that a sex offender may be prohibited or restricted from leaving the State. Some may say this amounts to a breach in the constitutional right to travel but anybody convicted of a sexual offence against either a child or adult should be stripped of that constitutional right. If this was known in advance, perhaps some people would think twice about their deviance. There is the matter of illegal online activities and child pornography being connected with people convicted of sexual assault. These people should also know there could be severe consequences for these vile sexual assaults and such online activities.

There is no question that we need stronger deterrence than just a couple of years in prison before the slate is wiped clean. Many people know that if they wish to travel to America and other places, they need a clean slate. I know people who committed minor offences in their youth, who should not be barred from travelling, but in the case of sexual violence against either a child or adult, people should suffer the consequences.

The Bill could also impose a condition that a sex offender should make an application to the court under a proposed section 30B if he or she intends to leave the State. This would empower judges to restrict, where appropriate, the travel of those convicted of such child sexual offences. This would be where it is deemed that travel could pose a risk to vulnerable persons in jurisdictions outside the State that do not have adequate child protection and welfare legislation. I would amend the 2001 Act in a technical way to make specific changes on a case-by-case basis, allowing judges to make travel restrictions or not, depending on the circumstances of individual cases.

This country has a dark history with regard to child protection. There are numerous cases where there was no supervision by the State and there was the appalling issue of clerical child abuse and institutional abuse. I am glad to say we have strengthened our protection of children in Ireland as a result of those past failings but we will never be finished and we must do more. Most important, we must protect children in jurisdictions outside Ireland where little or no child protection laws exist and halt the flow of sex offenders travelling to such destinations to commit sexual offences.

As I said at the outset, there must be an agreed and common approach from this House to ensure that even post-Brexit, greater co-operation can exist between North and South, as well as with Europe and beyond. Punishment for child sexual abuse in particular must match the crime. If this means there should be imposition of travel restrictions, so be it. We must send a clear message to those involved with such criminality that they will pay for their crime.

Deputy Ó Laoghaire is sharing time with his colleague, Deputy Funchion.

Ní dóigh liom go mbeidh sé sin go léir ag teastáil uaim ag an am seo den oíche. A number of years ago, we passed a constitutional amendment in the State which at its heart had the commitment that the interests and welfare of the child would be a paramount concern. It was a significant statement and it is consistent with the intent in this Bill. Our Constitution protects our own citizens but the intent should be to protect children at risk, no matter where they are in the world.

I commend Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on the Bill, which we will support. I will be guided by her approach to the Government amendment but it is legislation that is of value. It is motivated by what is often called sex tourism, although it is not a phrase of which I particularly approve. It describes the travelling of people from wealthy western countries to developing countries with a view to exploiting more vulnerable people, particularly children.

The motivation is to deal with and restrict the ability of sexual offenders to travel to such countries. I refer particularly to where there is inadequate child protection and child welfare legislation. Deputy O'Sullivan has worked closely with the People's Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance, PREDA, foundation and Fr. Shay Cullen. He has been campaigning on the issue of children's rights, particularly in south-east Asia. There is a significant problem there with people travelling to exploit people sexually.

The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, UNICEF, says that 60,000 young children are abused in the Philippines annually. PREDA has helped hundreds of children, some as young as seven or eight years old. It is extraordinary work and it is right and proper that whatever legislative support can be given is given. It is primarily a matter to be dealt with by those governments. They are responsible for the extremely poor standards and for failing their own citizens. There is a contribution this State can make. Obviously Ireland, no more than anywhere else, is not immune from this and doubtless there are Irish people who would consider travelling and exploiting in this way.

The legislation seeks to amend the Sexual Offences Act 2001. I acknowledge the Minister has announced he intends to review this legislation and bring forward heads of a Bill to amend the Act shortly. I look forward to engaging with him on that. It does so in a proportionate way. The Minister has stated that he has some views on the constitutionality etc. Most constitutional rights are not absolute. Proportionate interferences with constitutional rights are permitted. That is an established part of constitutional jurisprudence. When somebody is a risk where they are travelling, that would be a perfectly proportionate interference with constitutional rights. There is a balancing of rights. If somebody is a risk then his or her ability to travel should be restricted, in certain circumstances and subject to judicial discretion. That is also at the heart of this legislation.

This is envisioned as a condition that could be placed upon somebody who is convicted. It allows for judicial discretion and flexibility. That is vitally important. It goes about it in the right way. I hope the Government will genuinely work with the proposer of the Bill, Deputy O'Sullivan and that is not going to be another piece of legislation that is stalled. I hope there will be a genuine desire to engage and work through this Bill. I wish to acknowledge a point raised by Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin. I refer to the sentencing of sexual offenders in this country. I have raised this point on a number of occasions. Ms Justice Úna Ní Raifeartaigh raised the point recently that there are no sentencing guidelines available to judges and that there is inadequate structure or guidance for legal representatives as well. It was described as quite bizarre. I think that was the phrase. I have met the Minister and officials and have tried to be constructive. We have amendments down to the Judicial Council Bill. I recognise the Minister is not here at the minute but we have had a good engagement. I hope he will be able to progress this, that we can work progressively on this and it is something that can be delivered. I refer to delivering sentencing guidelines in the Judicial Council Bill. I hope the Chief Whip will convey that to the Minister.

Like others, I commend Deputy O'Sullivan, not only on bringing this Bill forward but on all of her work in this area. As Deputy Ó Laoghaire has stated, we will be supporting this Bill. It is a welcome step to protect children in extremely vulnerable positions. This Bill will allow judges to make a decision on a convicted sex offender's ability to travel outside the State based on the case, the offender and the conviction. It is incredibly easy for people convicted of sex offences to travel to states such as the Philippines, Thailand and south-east Asia where there is not robust legislation around child protection and child welfare.

This poses a huge risk to children and vulnerable people in these countries. It is about time we implemented legislation that will better protect those children in vulnerable positions outside of the State from Irish predators. The Rape Crisis Network Ireland has shocking statistics in regard to child sex abuse. It is a situation which can only be worse in other countries where law enforcement is not as tight and corruption within police forces and judicial systems is rampant. Ireland has a responsibility to protect others from citizens who have been convicted of such crimes. This will stop convicted paedophiles from Ireland from travelling to other countries to partake in the sex trade there. It should not be easy for people who have been convicted of a sexual offence in this country to travel to countries where it is even easier for them to commit such acts.

While I have the opportunity on this topic, we need to do far more in our own country to protect children. I refer in particular to children who are vulnerable and at risk and who may be in care. We have seen so many tragic stories and situations in the not too distant past. I refer to children in a vulnerable position being exploited and taken advantage of. It always really angers me, as I am sure it does other people, but particularly as a mother. One thinks that one would do whatever one can to protect one's children. We need to be far better in this country in respect of legislation to protect those children in the first instance. As my colleague has said, when people are convicted there needs to be much stronger and more robust sentencing. We will be supporting this Bill and commend Deputy O'Sullivan and her colleagues on bringing it forward.

I commend Deputy O'Sullivan on this child protection legislation, the aim of which is to protect children and vulnerable adults from sexual predators. This is a vast industry said to be a $32 billion one, only behind the arms race. Approximately 4.5 million young people and vulnerable adults are trapped in this sex tourism industry on an ongoing basis. The common denominator in this area is the question of poverty and the lack of education. It is an important piece of legislation. It is also a measured piece of legislation. It respects the constitutional right to travel.

This type of legislation is not new. It has already been introduced in Australia in 2017. We should follow suit. In 2017, the Australian Government became the first to pass legislation to restrict travel and cancel the passports of convicted paedophiles on the national child sex offenders register. There were 20,000 people on that register in 2017. Another 2,500 offenders were added the following year. These were offenders who served a sentence but were not allowed to travel abroad. One report stated that in 2017, before this legislation came into being, approximately 800 convicted sex offenders travelled annually to south east Asia to countries like the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand. When we hear this we feel outraged and helpless.

However, those of us in the House tonight can do something positive in this regard by supporting Deputy O'Sullivan's Bill and move it to the next Stage.

The Bill aims to empower judges to restrict, where appropriate, the travel of persons convicted of a sexual offence where it is deemed that travel could pose a risk to vulnerable persons in jurisdictions outside the State that do not have adequate child protection and child welfare legislation. The aim of the Bill is to amend the Sex Offenders Act 2001 in a technical way and make specific changes on a case-by-case basis that would allow judges to make travel restrictions, as I have already said. I believe this legislation is measured. It allows judges to make restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Judges can also consider whether the convicted offender has engaged in any significant rehabilitative process.

The most important part of the Bill or the most important change that the Bill is putting forward is a change in the definition of "serious harm" in the current law. In the current law, serious harm is defined as "death or serious personal injury, whether physical or psychological, which would be occasioned if the offender were to commit a sexual offence after he or she has been released into the community". The legislation would change the interpretation of physical or psychological harm caused by the person. This change would make it far easier to stop a registered sex offender from travelling abroad. Of course, the distinction is that all sexual harm to children is serious harm. Irish legislation should reflect that.

The legislation is also supported by Fr. Shay Cullen who has worked in this area in the Philippines for many years, having set up an organisation called the PREDA Foundation in 1974. The organisation rescues sexually-abused children. Social workers and therapists take care of them and help them to heal and overcome the trauma of rape and sexual assault perpetrated by foreign child sex offenders. Some of them are likely to travel to developing countries from Ireland. We know that prevention is better than cure. I believe that we have the power, influence and responsibility in the House tonight to prevent Irish paedophiles from travelling to foreign countries where the rule of law is weak and children are vulnerable. The case made by Fr. Cullen and others has been made clearly and plainly. Young people have been sexually abused by these tourists in countries where the law is simply not strong enough to deter commission of these offences.

There is clear evidence that in Ireland, as recently as February of this year, the question of pornography and paedophilia on the Internet has been exposed. Homes were raided here in February of this year of paedophile suspects based on information received from the authorities in the USA, Canada and other law enforcement agencies. It is reported that as many as 150,000 images of children being sexually abused were found. Certainly, we do not want these paedophiles to be allowed to travel from Ireland to take advantage of poor and uneducated children in other parts of the world.

I am disappointed that the Minister of State and the Government are not supporting this legislation. I appeal to the Minister of State to withdraw his opposition and support this legislation. Any changes or discussions that are needed and any checking of this legislation that is required can be done on Committee Stage.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is next. I gather you require two minutes, Deputy. Deputy Daly has graciously allowed you to go ahead.

You are a man after my own heart, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I apologise for missing the slot. I was watching for other speakers who were before me.

I am happy to speak on the Bill tonight. All of us in the House know that Deputy O'Sullivan is a person of integrity and her commitment to issues of social justice here and abroad is well-recognised. I have every confidence that the Bill Deputy O'Sullivan has placed before the House is measured and reasonable legislation that seeks to adopt sane and logical restrictions on the free movement of those convicted of certain classes of offences. It is necessary and timely to have a debate around this area.

It appals everyone that people commit or perpetrate such crimes. Those of us who have studied the matter to any depth know that these are devious people who seek to confuse, mislead and cover their tracks. They go to all rounds to commit their heinous crimes.

It is absolutely staggering to read the statistics relating to international child sexual abuse. Indeed, the more one reads the numbers involved, the more we see what a nightmare it truly is for so many children and young people. According to the research conducted by UNICEF in 38 low and middle-income countries, close to 17 million adult women report having experienced forced sex as children. The volume, sheer numbers, pain and anguish behind the figure beggars belief.

I compliment UNICEF and other non-governmental organisations and agencies that do so much work in this field to attempt to get some rein on the scope of the crimes. In 28 countries in Europe, approximately 2.5 million young women report experiences of contact and non-contact forms of sexual violence before the age of 15. It is truly horrendous. Children should enjoy being children and have childhood experiences in life. Many of those affected are from traumatised countries where there is war, famine and God knows what else. Then they have these vile acts perpetrated on them.

Recently, I spoke on a Bill relating to the United Nations. Thankfully, our people were exonerated in inquiries. However, some people have gone into some areas to save people, keep the peace and give hope and solace to people in war-torn areas. Some of these people have violated and broken the very trust placed in them because of the uniform and because they represented the United Nations. They were supposed to be there to help out rather than violate people and commit crimes against them.

Of course this type of sexual violence is not restricted to victims who are girls or young women. In one year alone, the World Health Organization estimated that 73 million boys under 18 years of age experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence.

If the Bill can in any way help to combat or reduce these horrific statistics then we must all support it. As I said, Deputy O'Sullivan has a track record in this area. She has travelled to many areas as a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence and is passionate about what she does.

There will be concerns about the appropriate balancing of rights and restrictions. However, I believe that in such serious, intolerable, vile and nasty crimes we should forget the balance sometimes. I do not mean that literally but we must tilt the balance in favour of the victims. Too often, we fail to do that. I believe that given the vast scale of the problem and the fact that the Bill provides for judicial oversight, the right balance has been struck.

I realise the courts system is clogged up.

We as legislators need to give some solace in respect of ensuring people will not travel from this country with no other intent but to commit heinous and desperate crimes. We must have restrictions.

I commend Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and her staff on the excellent work they have put into this Bill and other legislation. I look forward to supporting it here and on different Stages of the legislative process. It is a pity the Government has seen fit to put down amendments to it to hold it up. We cannot open up the floodgates and throw away respect for the rule of law. We cannot have that.

I notice lately, and I discussed this with Deputy Clare Daly this evening, that a mob law culture has emerged with respect to people who are convicted for these crimes in this country and who have served their punishment and done their time. I do not like the mob law culture that has developed in some areas whereby these people have arrived in an area or where they have been relocated or housed. Those people have committed the crime, horrible as it is, and served their time. The court system saw fit to punish them and they have served their time. If they had done that, they are now back out as innocent people, provided they are being monitored. I do not like the mob law we see on Facebook and other social media, which is terrorising some of those people, threatening to burn them out and with all kinds of behaviour. Two wrongs do not make a right. It is important we maintain and respect the rule of law. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to speak on this Bill.

I call Deputy Clare Daly who I understand is sharing with her colleague, Deputy Joan Collins.

That is correct. We need to see Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's Bill in the wider context of inequality on a global scale where the poorest countries are at an enormous disadvantage. There is a certain irony in that last week on Private Members' business we were discussing the shortage of nurses here because we do not pay them enough, which has led to us basically hoovering up valuable medical staff from those same developing countries, which they could use at home. We have seen it before with issues such as adoption, where people with money can travel to foreign countries and pay huge sums of money to adopt children, in some instances, in areas where they do not know whether the mother has been forced into a pregnancy in order to deliver, in essence, a baby for sale, or where they do not know what the circumstances are, whether poverty, in and of itself, has forced that person to give up her child. This issue is similar. It is the poverty in these countries and the lack of regulation that exposes people of all ages to engage in sex work, sometimes to combat poverty, but it also is that system that exposes them to gross exploitation and danger.

While I note the points made by Deputy O'Loughlin about the Netherlands study, how sex tourism is possibly shifting a bit and that we cannot use terms such as that as they are becoming outdated, we all know there are certain countries where this activity is not governed appropriately and where it is much more prevalent. People deliberately and purposely go to those countries to engage in underage sex, which they would not get away in other jurisdictions. The idea that that could ever be voluntary in the case of the child is utter nonsense. If we want to protect children at home, we have a global responsibility to protect them abroad as well.

I am very glad that people have drawn on the excellent work done by Fr. Shay Cullen and the People's Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation, PREDA. The stories that come from them about lives destroyed are utterly heartbreaking. I will not repeat the points that have been made. It is the case because people think they can get away with it off the grid. One of the pieces written by Fr. Cullen was quite illustrative in terms of looking at the bounce-back and how it can come home to us.

Deputy Healy referred to 150,000 child images being found in Ireland in February as a result of raids on people's based on information from abroad. He made the point correctly that to join a photo-sharing paedophile club on the dark web, one has to prove one's credentials. One has to show pictures of abuse and often one has to show oneself taking part in that abuse in order to prove one's bona fides. In many instances, people do that by travelling abroad to abuse children. Following that, as we know, many of them are not put on trial and bribe their way out of it.

This Bill is important. It is not a panacea but it examines an aspect of the problem. It is a child protection measure. It is not about retribution with respect to people who had committed a crime in the past and who were rehabilitated or were striving to deal with their criminal behaviour. That is important because it is not a blanket ban naming countries and it is not a blanket ban excluding sex offenders. It gives discretion to the Judiciary to weigh up the progress of somebody who was on the sex offenders register to see if he or she is a person who should be restricted because there is a fear that the person's offending behaviour will recur in another jurisdiction. That is proportionate.

I do not agree with the comments about rights. We need to balance rights, and I am not in favour of tipping rights on either side. A society has to be able to respect all rights and not ignore them. I echo the points made by Deputy Mattie McGrath. There is an appalling development in vigilante behaviour with respect to this area of crime. There are terrible cases of entrapment using social media and so on, which I do not find acceptable. What this Bill is trying to do is much more proportionate. It does not propose a travel ban or blacklisting countries. It is very much proportionate to protecting children in other jurisdictions.

I wish to commend Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, her team, Fr. Cullen and PREDA on putting together this Bill. The Bill seeks to regulate and restrict, where appropriate, sex offenders from travelling abroad in the interests of the common good and to protect vulnerable persons from serious harm outside Ireland where sex trafficking and child prostitution may be prevalent. The Act seeks to amend the Sex Offenders Act 2001 to empower judges with the option to impose a travel restriction on a case-by-case basis where the deciding judge believes the restriction is warranted. That is important because it is not proposing a blanket ban.

I am aware that in other countries, restrictions of this nature can be used for soccer supporters or other supporters who have known records in terms of actions abroad. As far as I am aware, it has also been used in some cases where ISIS or other such groups are moving throughout Europe. They can be looked at as an example of how this can be enacted.

To deal with the Bill section by section, the first section deals with protecting vulnerable children in jurisdictions that, unfortunately, do not have the same protections for children as there are in this State. That is not to say we do not have much to do. We still have a lot to do. I refer in particular to those jurisdictions where there is criminality, the judicial system is corrupted and families are vulnerable in that people with money can literally buy off their children. It maintains the constitutional rights of a person convicted of a crime and it empowers judges to impose travel limitations, not prohibition, on a case-by-case basis.

All the points have been made by earlier speakers about the way this type of exploitation by paedophiles who have been convicted of serious crimes are able to access countries that have low restrictions and low levels of border protection. It is very important that as a nation and as a legislative body, we should be able to examine this Bill and tease out how best to bring in those restrictions.

I have a problem with imposing travel bans and so on because I believe we must be very careful in that regard. However, the Bill tries to deal with that. I will be directed by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan as to whether she will accept the Government's amendment but if the Government is serious about trying to deal with this issue, and particularly with Australia's record and its response to the number of paedophiles travelling to eastern Asia, I believe it can be done.

I would welcome it if the Government was approaching this honestly and eagerly to try to deal with the issue, but if it is only trying to push this issue down the line again. I ask the Government not to do so and to support the Bill. I favour going in the direction of Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's Bill.

I thank all the Deputies for their considered input to tonight's thought-provoking debate on this important subject. As the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, outlined, he has given much thought to the key intention of this Bill, which is to prevent harm to the most vulnerable. As a society, we must always be concerned with those who are most in need of protection and it is right that such concern not cease at the limits of our own country. Our values are pursued all over the world through the good work of the Defence Forces, which serve on overseas missions, and through the work of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the mission network he oversees, particularly in the developing world and through the UN's institutions.

As the Minister made clear, however, there are a range of legal and operational issues which must be considered in light of the proposals in this Bill. There is a rigorous system of post-release supervision in place for convicted sex offenders in Ireland. Under the Sex Offenders Act 2001, at the lowest end, a person who has received a suspended or non-custodial sentence for a sexual offence is subject to the provisions of the Act for five years; and this increases to an indefinite period where a sentence of imprisonment for two years or more has been imposed.

A sex offender subject to these provisions must notify An Garda Síochána of his or her place of residence, and the Act allows the court to specify a period of post-release supervision. The 2001 Act also allows for the imposition of a sex offender order, which may prohibit the person from doing certain things in order to protect the public from harm. Importantly, the 2001 Act has regard to the question of a convicted sex offender who wishes to leave the State for a period. The Act provides that such a person must notify An Garda Síochána of the person's intention to travel outside the State for seven or more days, and provide the address of the place where the person will stay, if known.

This Bill proposes to extend the power of the court to prohibit a person from travelling outside the State entirely or to require that the person must apply to the court for leave to travel. As the Minister noted earlier, this represents a very significant expansion of the terms of the 2001 Act and the Minister has identified a number of issues that require further consideration. The Minister's concerns are centred around two factors: the legal implications of such provisions under the Constitution, EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights; and the practical and policy implications of the proposals with regard to the effective supervision of a convicted sex offender.

As a means of addressing these concerns effectively, the Minister has moved the amendment to enable the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality to look closely at these proposals and to address directly the concerns he has identified. He has proposed that the Oireachtas committee has regard to whether the proposed Bill gives rise to constitutional difficulties or difficulties under the European Convention on Human Rights or European Union law; and whether the proposals strike a balanced and measured approach in relation to competing rights, in particular, the balance between the rights the person convicted of a sex offence and the need for protection of vulnerable members of society, including those outside Ireland.

The Oireachtas committee will also be asked to examine the extent and scope of any restrictions on travel for convicted sex offenders to other states and to identify the means by which a restriction on travel to other states by a convicted sex offender could be administered and supervised. As part of this, the Oireachtas committee can look at the experience of other jurisdictions which have introduced similar legislative provisions. I am aware that Australia has introduced a similar measure but I am not aware of other examples.

The Government believes that pre-legislative scrutiny is an important part of the legislative process. It results in better legislation and it gives Oireachtas Members a greater opportunity to shape legislation and interrogate the underlying principles of a Bill. Pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill will result in a better Bill in due course. As the Minister outlined earlier, he is preparing his own amendments to the Sex Offenders Act 2001 that will enhance the supervision of convicted sex offenders, strengthening the notification requirements and, where the risk posed to the public is significant, allowing for the use of electronic monitoring devices.

This Government has, in recent years, also brought forward important legislation on sexual offences in the form of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, which updated the law on the grooming of children using modern technology and created new offences. A number of other important pieces of legislation will also be brought forward this year, including the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018 which provides for sentencing for repeat sex offenders.

While the intention of this Bill is very clear, these are not easy issues to consider as they impinge on constitutional rights. As the Minister noted earlier, the provisions of this Bill may have unintended consequences. The limitations proposed would restrict all travel outside the State, including on the island. It would be extremely difficult to identify in legislation particular countries where these limits should and could apply but the committee may have recourse to expert advice on that issue and that would be very valuable. The experience of Australia will be important, notwithstanding its different constitutional arrangements and, indeed, the relevance of its geographic location in this context. It will be useful to identify the kinds of travel restrictions on convicted sex offenders that Australia has put in place and how effective these measures have been.

With these issues in mind, the Minister proposed this amendment to enable a thorough assessment of these provisions and the broader surrounding issues by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality. The outcome of this process will then inform any discussion of this Bill in 12 months' time.

The Minister has asked me to pass on his thanks to Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for this proposal and I join him in commending the Deputy on her tireless work on behalf of the vulnerable around the world. The Minister looks forward to contributing to the Second Stage debate on this Bill when it returns to the floor of the Dáil following pre-legislative scrutiny. In the interim period, the Minister believes that we will be in a better position to bring forward amendments to the Sex Offenders Act 2001 which capture the complex legal, constitutional and operational elements of this issue.

First, I offer a sincere thanks to those who took part in this debate. I understand the lateness of the debate and the continued pushing back of its time made it difficult for some to stay who wanted to speak. I thank them for the calls to my office in support of the Bill, but I offer special thanks to those who persevered to speak and to those who stayed in the Gallery.

With this Bill, Ireland would have an opportunity for another first, such as the plastic bag levy and the smoking ban. Let us look at the realities behind this Bill, one of which is the increase in the number of child sex tourism hot spots with easy access to children. There is the reality of impunity for abusers in those countries. There is the reality of the conditions that drive children into the sex industry, some of whom are sold by their families. These conditions include extreme poverty, unemployment, the lack of access to education and conflict situations.

There is also the reality of the sexual exploitation of children. It can be invisible and it is certainly mobile. It is global in both the developed and developing world. It is escalating because there is a marked increase in preferences for children. It is also highly profitable and is facilitated also by easier and cheaper access to travel throughout the world.

This is an opportunity to set a benchmark to protect children from serious harm. It is about protecting children from a person outside this State doing an act which, if it was committed here, would constitute a sexual offence by one who has been released into the community after committing such an offence here.

The abusers are paedophiles, preferential child sex abusers, situational customers, local prostitute users, tourists, travelling businessmen and some women, migrant foreign workers and the military. It is reckoned that the issues in the Philippines began with the presence of the US military way back. It led to an increase in the number of bars and brothels and an increase in prostitution. The Bill is about empowering judges to impose travel limitations at the time of sentencing or not if the judge is satisfied that there is or is not a risk of offending abroad. It is proportionate and it is also conditional. For example, leave can be granted to attend a funeral in the UK for a couple of days but alarm bells would ring if there was a request to go for three weeks to Thailand or the Philippines. I stress the narrow remit of the Bill.

We say the rights of children are a priority for Ireland. It is certainly outlined in our foreign policy. It is also part of the Irish Aid document, One World, One Future. Ireland has provided funding for End Child Prostitution and Trafficking International, ECPAT International. In 2016 we gave it a grant for three years for a project in Thailand combatting child sexual exploitation. This Bill is a chance to go even further and not just give money. It is an opportunity to do something significant and radical and something that will make a difference in children's lives.

When it came to the amendment, I was struck by the Minister of State's optimism that we will be here in 12 months' time so the work will be done within that timeframe. I thought about it and decided to take all the positives from his speech. I decided that accepting the amendment is a better way to progress the Bill. We also have to acknowledge the backlog of work for the justice committee. I will accept the Minister of State's word and I hope we can work on a shorter timeframe or at least a commitment from Fine Gael that if it is back in Government the Bill will not get lost but will be a priority to be progressed. We owe it to those in those countries. The poverty in those countries is related to our developed world, in particular to those countries that carved up south-east Asia, Latin America, South America and Africa for their empires. It is also related to the continued economic, financial and tax policies of the developed world.

I am all for working together. I heard the Minister of State speak about the balancing of rights. As we are debating this here tonight there are children and young people, boys and girls, who are being sexually exploited, sexually abused and raped in poor countries by men and some women from our world. It is time to ensure the rights of children to their childhood. If European countries can prevent football hooligans from travelling to matches, surely we can do more to save children from convicted sex offenders because the lives of children are more important. There is a right to travel but how can we possibly agree with the right to travel to abuse, hurt and sexually exploit children. That is what I have been trying to do in this Bill. I hope we can see progress on it before 12 months or before the Dáil finishes.

Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 11.54 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 May 2018.