I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to introduce this Bill to the Dáil following its passing in the Seanad. The purpose of this legislation is to strengthen Ireland's regime against the smuggling of persons and to implement several important international instruments in this area.
People smuggling is the facilitated, irregular movement of persons across borders for financial or other benefit. It is distinct from human trafficking in that smuggling occurs with the consent of the person while trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation and exploitation of a victim. However, smuggling and trafficking are inevitably closely linked. Those smuggled are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, often placed in mortal danger and left owing debts to organised criminal groups. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, estimates that 2.5 million people are smuggled every year. Catastrophic loss of life is all too common, and everyone in the House will recall the horrific deaths of 39 Vietnamese men, women, and children in Essex two years ago. Ireland experienced the tragic consequences of people smuggling in the Wexford tragedy of December 2001, where eight people suffocated in a shipping container while attempting to enter the United Kingdom.
Smuggling is a highly profitable criminal activity and one that is difficult to prosecute given its inherently complex and cross-border nature. A co-ordinated international response, including effective and dissuasive criminal sanctions, is vital, and this Bill will strengthen and modernise Ireland's regime and ensure we play our part in that response. It is important to emphasise, however, that the criminal sanctions in this Bill are only one part of a broader national effort to ensure we support those most at risk of exploitation. Over the past year, we have introduced significant measures to combat trafficking, create a more victim-centred approach to identifying and supporting victims, and raise awareness and provide training. An important element of this work was the approval by the Government earlier this year of a proposal to revise our national referral mechanism, NRM. The reform of the NRM is intended make it easier for victims to come forward, to be officially recognised as victims of human trafficking and to receive the appropriate supports. Work to advance this important initiative is under way.
In addition, other ongoing initiatives include the drafting a new national action plan on human trafficking; the development of training, through NGOs, for front-line staff in industries such as the hospitality, airline and shipping sectors who may come into contact with trafficked persons; the improvement of supports for victims through the implementation of the Supporting a Victim's Journey programme; the running of a new awareness-raising campaign, which launched in October, in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration, IOM, on human trafficking in Ireland; and the promotion of the supports that are available, which will build on the success of previous campaigns. There will also be an increase in funding to support victims of crime generally, as well as increased funding specifically dedicated to supporting victims of trafficking.
Turning to the Bill, Deputies will be aware that people smuggling is already an offence in Ireland under section 2 of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000. The introduction of this legislation is motivated by two goals: to extend those existing provisions in line with the relevant EU and UN instruments to ensure Ireland meets its shared international obligations, and to address the practical limitations of the 2000 Act which have hampered successful prosecutions.
The Bill reflects the provisions of three international instruments, namely, the EU Council Directive 2002/90/EC defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence, the EU Framework Decision 2002/946/JHA on the strengthening of the penal framework to prevent the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence, and the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000.
The EU framework is composed of two instruments that were adopted together and which are commonly referred to as the facilitators package. Together, they set a baseline against people smuggling across the EU, providing for the essential elements of offences and their geographic scope, minimum-maximum penalties, corporate liability, extraterritorial jurisdiction and inchoate offences. These instruments were introduced in 2002, and at the time Ireland and the UK chose not to participate. In the context of closer links with the Schengen area, however, and particularly for the purpose of accessing the second generation Schengen Information System, we have committed to implementing these instruments by the end of this year. The UN Protocol, adopted by the General Assembly in 2000, was the first global instrument to contain an agreed definition regarding the smuggling of migrants. Countries that ratify this treaty must ensure migrant smuggling is criminalised in accordance with the protocol's legal requirements.
Taken together, the EU and UN instruments require criminalisation of the facilitating of smuggling into any member state or state party to the protocol. They also provide for the criminalisation not only of facilitating the act of unlawful entry into a state but also that of facilitating unlawful presence. The instruments also require the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction on a broader scale than is currently provided for.
I will briefly mention the specific provisions of the Bill. Part 1 contains preliminary provisions, including the Short Title, commencement, expenses, repeals and definitions. Part 2 forms the heart of this Bill and creates the new criminal offences. Section 6 provides for the offence of assisting unlawful entry into, transit across or presence in the State. The essential ingredients of the offence are that a person intentionally assists entry into, transit across or presence in the State of another person where the entry, transit or presence of the other person is in breach of a specified provision of Irish immigration law and the perpetrator knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the entry, transit or presence of the other person is in breach of a specified provision. A person convicted of an offence under this section is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for up to ten years.
Section 8 provides for additional offences in respect of the fraudulent documents used or intended to be used for people smuggling. These provisions complement those of Part 4 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001.
Section 10 provides for penalties. Notably, it provides that the court shall treat as an aggravating factor any behaviour by the offender that endangers the life or safety of the person being smuggled or that resulted in the exploitation or inhuman or degrading treatment of the person to whom the offence related.
Part 3 deals with enforcement measures, notably including powers in respect of ships at sea, and provides for the confiscation and forfeiture of vehicles and vessels used in the commission of smuggling offences.