Earlier this year Australia became the first country in the world to introduce strict legislation to clamp down on sex offenders leaving or attempting to go abroad.
Now Ireland looks set to follow with draft legislation expected to be introduced later this month, which would pave the way for this country becoming the first European nation to make it illegal for convicted paedophiles to travel overseas.
The campaign is being spearheaded by Fr Shay Cullen, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Irish missionary who runs the PREDA child abuse charity in the Philippines.
The Dublin-born priest said a move to prevent registered sex offenders from travelling abroad would particularly benefit developing nations, such as the Philippines, where sex tourism and child prostitution are rife.
He said: “It is a grievous crime for anyone to travel abroad to commit child abuse. Legislation was passed in Australia, but we want other countries to follow, and Ireland to take the lead in the EU on this.
“The benefit will be very big in terms of child protection. When more countries follow the Australian lead, many more children will be safer from abusers.”
Fr Cullen has been working closely with Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan, who in her role as a member of the foreign affairs committee, said draft legislation to impose travel limitations on Irish citizens who have been convicted of a sex crime is on course to be unveiled in just two weeks.
In a response to a recent parliamentary question from the Dublin Central TD about the issue, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney stressed that the Government was “committed to combating child sex abuse in every way possible”.
However, despite legislation being in place to refuse to issue an applicant a passport in certain circumstances, he acknowledged that at present the Passport Services do “not have any statutory power to impose or monitor travel restrictions on a passport holder”.
Australia’s introduction of tough laws four months ago will result in around 20,000 people, who have served their sentences but are still being monitored under the Australian National Child Offender Register, being denied passports.
Supporters of the new legislation estimate that around 2,500 new cases will be added every year in Australia.
Last year alone it is estimated that up to 800 registered child sex offenders travelled overseas from Australia.