The matter I raise relates to the need for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to sign or ratify the United Nations Protocol on Trafficking which dates to 2000 and the Council on European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings which dates to 2005.
In his capacity as Minister of State in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan is probably aware that Ireland is in clear breach of its international obligations for failing to sign or ratify these two international instruments. It is entirely unacceptable that Ireland has no specific, domestic legislation to outlaw trafficking in human beings within this country or into this country.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has contributed his usual lip service but nothing has been done during his four and a half years in office. The inter-congregational group of religious orders has now taken up the cudgel. I hope the Minister will lend it a more sympathetic ear than he has done to the Members of this House. No doubt we will have copious promises of future action from the Minister but it is unlikely that anything will be done before the election takes place in six months time.
The stark reality is that trafficking in human beings is one of the biggest and most appalling multinational industries in the world. The startling statistics demonstrate that more people were traded into slavery in one decade of the 1980s, from Asia alone, than all the people sold into slavery from Africa in the 400 years in which slavery legally existed. Sixteen years later, the incidence of trafficking has increased substantially. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million people are trafficked annually, more than 50% of whom come through various European countries. The industry is estimated to be worth a whopping €36 billion in Europe alone. Almost every city, town, or village in eastern and central Europe has girls and young women, in particular, victimised by the traffickers who force them into the human exploitation industry. With the opening up of the European Union borders, the movement of traffickers and their prey is largely invisible. The risks are few and the profits are enormous. Trafficking is now the third largest money making venture in the world after illegal weapons and illegal drugs.
Clearly, we can no longer turn a blind eye to what is becoming increasingly an Irish phenomenon. Experience on the ground in Ireland and research conducted at the Johns Hopkins University confirm that the trafficking Mafia are now targeting Ireland as a growing lucrative market and a port of entry. The Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are well aware of the growing incidence of trafficking of women for the sex industry. It is essential that we take urgent action now before trafficking in humans goes the deadly way of illegal weapons and illegal drugs. The Government failed to act when the warning signs were there. Now gangland killings are widespread and there are illegal drugs distribution networks throughout the country.
The Government must ratify international conventions and protocols, which it has not done to date. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must introduce legislation to target the traffickers with heavy penalties and give the Garda the necessary powers to track them down, seize their assets and put them out of business as well as putting them behind bars. He must establish a special rapid reaction team of gardaí who can link up quickly and effectively with Europol and Interpol to monitor the activities of the international trafficking gangs and pursue them anywhere in the world.
The Minister must acknowledge that trafficking in humans is a grave violation of human rights. He must, therefore, put in place a public awareness programme to inform the public and encourage victims to come forward. That will require legislation that not only targets the traffickers but also incorporates protective and support measures for the victims so that they do not end up being further victimised. A victim-centred approach is required.