Deputy Declan Breathnach: 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 deterrents 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.