Government denies people smuggling law will lead to prosecutions of NGOs

Government denies people smuggling law will lead to prosecutions of NGOs

James Browne

New legislation which will widen the offence of people smuggling will not lead to prosecutions of humanitarian organisations, the government has insisted.

The Criminal Justice (Smuggling of Persons) Bill, which replaces most aspects of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000, was approved by TDs shortly after midnight last night.

Under existing law, a person can only be convicted of smuggling if prosecutors can prove that the defendant acted for gain.

The new offence covers intentionally assisting entry, transit or presence where the person knows or has reasonable cause to believe that it is in breach of specified immigration law provisions.

While the existing offence is limited to facilitating the entry into Ireland, the revised offence covers smuggling into other countries, including EU member states and parties to the UN protocol against people smuggling.

The government rejected a number of amendments proposed by Independent TD Catherine Connolly which would have explicitly empted NGOs from prosecution under the law.

Last week, James Browne, minister of state in the Department of Justice, told TDs: “I do not accept that under this law, NGOs or anyone providing humanitarian assistance will be at any real risk of unjustified prosecution. If we accept the amendments, we will end up in the same situation we are currently in, which is an impossible task for prosecutors.

“If it is a bar to prosecution for a person simply to say that he or she was acting for humanitarian reasons or for a humanitarian organisation, where is that decision made? Is it simply the case that a person raises it and is then not prosecuted?”

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