Mercy Global Concern

Mercies in Ireland Welcome Historic Passing of 'Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015’

Reports: February 17, 2017

Sisters of Mercy in Ireland working with victims of sex trafficking welcomed the successful passage of the ‘Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, 2015, through both houses of the Irish Parliament on 14 February 2017. The Bill took 10 years of deliberation, which included garnering cross party support and listening to the views of civil society in public hearings. Members of the Mercy Family were present at these.

Members of all Government parties also listened attentively to the courageous interventions from women and men caught up in prostitution – many of whom had been trafficked. Closely linked to the ‘Nordic Model’ first formulated in Sweden, the bill includes provisions to criminalise those purchasing sexual favours, whilst de-criminalising those providing them. This is based on the premise that most of those caught up in prostitution have been forced into it for survival or through coercion.

In her comments to the press after the historic vote in the Seanad (Upper House) on the night of 14 February, Ms Frances Fitzgerald, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and the Minister of Justice said: “This is one of the most comprehensive and wide ranging pieces of sexual offences legislation ever to be introduced.” She went on to say that it is a strong Bill, because it contains laws that will protect victims of the most vicious and heinous crimes.

The Bill is particularly strong in favour of children’s rights, with updated laws to combat and counteract the sexual exploitation of children in any form. This includes stronger legislation related to all aspects of pornography, any form of grooming and use of social media to exploit children.

A welcome addition lauded by women’s groups is that the Bill provides greater clarity in relation to the definition of sexual consent.

A summary overview of the Bill:

  • New criminal offences to protect children against grooming;
  • New measure to protect children from online predators;
  • New and strengthened offences to tackle child pornography;
  • New provisions to be introduced regarding evidence by victims, particularly children;
  • New offences addressing public indecency;
  • A provision in relation to harassment Orders to protect victims of convicted sex offenders;
  • A statutory statement of the law, relating to consent to sexual acts

Sadly the Bill was passed in the midst of political turbulence that threatened to bring down the coalition government. In time Ms Fitzgerald, the Minister of Justice will receive great praise for this landmark Bill. What NGOs and concerned groups need to ensure is that sufficient money is set aside by the Government to implement the Bill! This money is needed for the general education of the public; training of the Gardai or police force and law enforcement agencies. Most importantly there must be sufficient money for programmes as part of the ‘exit strategy’. This is essential, to encourage those caught up in prostitution to avail of options re further education and a training of choice, to compensate for the loss of income.

In other countries where a similar Bill incorporating the Nordic Model has been adopted, traffickers quickly realise that ‘demand’ mainly from men, drops significantly once the legislation is enforced. We therefore need to lobby with the Mercy Family and our colleagues that all other countries adopt similar legislation so that children, women and men can be treated in all circumstances with the respect and dignity that is their right!

"Every Government should decisively combat this plague of human trafficking, paying particular attention to trafficking in children.... Every effort must be made to eradicate this shameful and intolerable crime."
-Pope Francis, 8 February 2017, Feast of St. Bakhita

 Messages to: Denise Boyle fmdm - Mercy Global Action

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