Her nanny and neither of the boys had the same surname. Nor do either of the boys “look remotely alike”, according to their mum, as they have different dads.
As is required in the US, O’Connor had given the nanny, Luke Barber a letter of permission to travel with the boys to join her on tour.
It contained her signature and phone contact details but at no point on the journey was her nanny asked for such a document — a letter she describes as “insane anyway” as any person could purport to be the mother or father of these children and sign such a document.
“That letter could have been written by Santa Claus,” she said.
On two more occasions since then, Mr Barber has left Dublin with the two boys — and on no occasion was a garda, customs official, or immigration official inclined to ask him why he was taking two children who weren’t his own out of the country.
“It struck me that we in Ireland are a breeding ground for trafficking — in, out and through — and traffickers must know this. No minor should be allowed to travel with any adult including their parents without a specific children’s visa,” she said.
She contacted the Department of Children and specifically Frances Fitzgerald, the children’s minister, who agreed that it was a serious matter.
She said she would ask Transport Minister Leo Varadkar to contact the Dublin Airport Authority.
“Why on earth would the minister for transport, tourism, and sport be the one calling the airport about child protection? Then when I contacted the DAA they told me that it would be up to each airline to check — that it was not their responsibility,” she said.
Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair have told the Irish Examiner that this is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs — but the department told the Irish Examiner that “insofar as your query relates to border controls and to child trafficking, you should contact the Department of Justice”.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has responsibility for issuance of passports. There is no separate legal requirement for accompanying adults bringing children out of Ireland,” said a spokesman.
The Department of Justice, meanwhile, has said any such controls “would have to be the Department of Foreign Affairs”.
“I don’t see that we have a role. We have no section that deals with exit controls,” said a spokeswoman.
“Our role only begins once a child is abducted”.
Within the Department of Justice, there is an anti-human-trafficking unit run by the Garda National Investigation Bureau. They are running a longstanding campaign called the Blue Blindfold campaign.
On the Blue Blindfold homepage, it states: “The concept of the blue blindfold is ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’ to Human Trafficking. The blue blindfold represents the risk of people having their eyes closed and not being aware of the crime that may be going on around them”.
But is the lack of legal safeguards for children leaving the country the State closing its eyes to human trafficking?
The Irish Examiner contacted the Garda Press Office and asked what protocols are in place to stop children being trafficked out of Ireland by people other than their parents.
Despite follow-up phone calls, the Garda Press Office would not discuss the detail of any such protocols or confirm if they even exist.
“We implement the law and ensure that all matters of legality are followed. It is not our place to discuss protocols that is a matter for the Department of Justice.
“The Garda Síochána undertakes immigration controls at all approved ports of entry to the State and also deploys an immigration unit based at Dundalk to implement such controls at the border with Northern Ireland. In December 2012, The Department of Justice and Equality published a document entitled ‘Guide to Procedures for Victims of Human Trafficking in Ireland’, which has been made available on the Blue Blindfold website,” a Garda spokeswoman said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the head of bureau at the Garda National Immigration Bureau, Det Chief Supt John O’Driscoll, emailed O’Connor to assure her that “procedures are in place” to protect children from being trafficked.
However, he has not, despite repeated emails to him, informed her what precisely these procedures are and neither can anybody in the Departments of Children, Foreign Affairs, or Justice. The Department of Foreign Affairs has gone so far as to admit that there are no legal requirements in this area.
Yesterday, the Children’s Rights Alliance warned that “it is critical that the gardaí carry out this role as effectively as possible to ensure that no child is at risk of trafficking or abduction”.
Nonetheless, it appears nobody in Government wants to take responsibility for this lacuna yet according to the UN, human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime.