Belfast Telegraph

The UK has been at the forefront of opposing slavery for over 200 years

By Mark Brotherston

The UK has been at the forefront of opposing slavery for over two hundred years, dating back to the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron, which combatted the Atlantic slave trade, and William Wilberforce’s Anti-Slavery Society.

It’s a proud history, which is being kept alive, as the current government fights to contain a modern version of the slave trade, run by criminal gangs, trafficking people across international borders and forcing them to work under duress.

This evil industry is operating right now, in Northern Ireland. This week the PSNI rescued twenty Romanians that are allegedly to have been in the clutches of people traffickers.

A man from Limavady was also arrested in connection with the death of an immigrant from Afghanistan, who died while being trafficked in a shipping container.

Our police service will do everything it can to stop slavery, but a national and international problem needs a broader approach and specialist expertise. At Westminster, the Conservative Party has introduced a modern slavery bill which is much more coherent than badly drafted and possibly unenforceable legislation currently being sponsored by the DUP at Stormont.

Theresa May’s bill will increase the maximum sentence for trafficking from 14 years to life imprisonment. It will also create a new Anti-Slavery Commissioner, who can lead and coordinate efforts to stop modern slavery in the UK.  It is absolutely necessary that these measures are extended to Northern Ireland, as soon as the bill has made its way through Parliament.

At the heart of the new legislation is a duty to report potential victims of people trafficking to the National Crime Agency (NCA). It is the Agency which looks at the broader picture, gathering intelligence and bringing to justice the organised crime gangs responsible for slavery in the UK.

Unfortunately the SDLP and Sinn Féin have both stubbornly refused to accept the NCA’s introduction to Northern Ireland, for nakedly political reasons. Their attitude is deeply irresponsible and it puts people here at risk from all sorts of serious crime, ranging from child pornography to slavery.

We cannot allow the fight against people trafficking to be impeded by party politics. Simply, if the SDLP and Sinn Féin continue to block the NCA from operating in Northern Ireland, they stand, not with Wilberforce and other anti-slavery campaigners, but with gangsters who today try to profit from the desperation and misery of modern day slaves.    

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