Minister Naughton reiterates Ireland’s commitment to combatting human trafficking and supporting victims
Disappointed significant recent progress made by Ireland not acknowledged and reflected in report
The Department of Justice notes the publication of the ‘Trafficking in Persons’ (TiPs) Report 2021, and is disappointed the US State Department did not acknowledge as sufficient the significant progress that has been made to upgrade Ireland’s ranking. This is despite significant advancements over the past 12 months in measures to combat human trafficking and support victims.
Minister of State for Criminal and Civil Justice Hildegarde Naughton TD said:
"Human trafficking is a particularly heinous crime, based on deception and exploitation of vulnerable people, and combatting it is a priority.
"I appreciate the lead the US takes in producing this report but am disappointed that recent and significant progress we have made, along with work to create a more victim-centred approach to identifying and supporting victims, and our work to raise awareness and provide training, has not merited an upgrade in our ranking.
"The assessment made in relation to the fishing industry in the 2019 TiPs report and reflected again in the 2020 report is particularly concerning: all accusations of human trafficking are fully investigated by An Garda Síochána and decisions on prosecution are made by the DPP who is independent of Government.
"No evidence has been found to support the allegations of widespread human trafficking in the fishing industry and it is worrying that the State Department chose to place weight on one voice and not to take account of the balance of stakeholder assessment – including assessment by NGOs active in Ireland in tackling human trafficking – that these accusations are without foundation."
While the light the TiPs report shines on global efforts to combat human trafficking is very welcome, there are concerns about the lack of consistency in simply applying a year-on-year comparator while the impact of COVID-19 on work in this area has not been adequately represented.
Ireland is fully committed to combatting this horrific crime and to improving ways of identifying and supporting victims of it. Ireland continues to work with all our partners in multilateral international organisations who are active in tackling human trafficking, including the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE and the European Union.
In relation to the recommendations made for Ireland, the Minister notes that a number of key areas identified in the TiPs Report reflect the ongoing work that is, in some cases, already well-advanced, including:
the recent approval by Government to revise the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to make it easier for victims of human trafficking to come forward, be identified, and facilitate their access to advice, accommodation and support
the drafting of a new National Action Plan on Human Trafficking
the development of training, through NGOs, which specifically targets front line staff in industries such as hospitality, airline and shipping that may come into contact with trafficked persons
the work being undertaken to provide dedicated accommodation for female victims of sexual exploitation
the improvements being made to the Criminal Justice System through the implementation of Supporting A Victims Journey which will ensure vulnerable victims are fully supported at every stage of the process
the running of a national awareness raising campaign in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration later this year which will build on the success of the previous Blue Blindfold and AnyoneTrafficked campaigns
an increase in funding for supporting victims of crime generally and increased funding dedicated specifically to supporting victims of trafficking
Minister Naughton added:
"We would of course like to be further along in advancing some of the improvements we are making in this area, but it is fair to say that despite the challenges posed by the pandemic in 2020 and the first half of 2021 we have advanced a number of these reforms and this is something that is unfortunately not reflected in the Report."
While the TIPs report highlights that at the time of drafting there were no convictions for Human Trafficking in Ireland, Minister Naughton highlighted the significance of the recent convictions for human trafficking handed down by the Courts and acknowledged the dedication of An Garda Síochána in this area of their work:
"I would also commend An Garda Síochána for their hard work and dedication that led to the first convictions for human trafficking under Irish law which were handed down in Mullingar last month. Unfortunately this was not considered for the 2020 TIPs report but given the significance of the convictions, I think it is only right to acknowledge the achievement of all involved.
"I understand that there are a significant number of ongoing investigations being conducted by the specialised Human Trafficking Investigation and Coordination Unit, and I wish them well in this work."
Minister Naughton concluded:
"I’m looking forward to all of these improvements, which are addressing the matters raised in the TIPs report, being fully taken into account as part of the 2021 evaluation process."
A specialised Garda Unit - the Human Trafficking Investigation and Coordination Unit - is in place and there are 72 ongoing criminal investigations. There have been 16 new referrals of victims of human trafficking so far in 2021. While the number of suspects in these investigations cannot be provided as they remain live investigations, two suspects were arrested and detained in recent days under organised crime legislation.
The Minister also notes that many of the improvements recommended in the TiPs report focus on the creation of a more victim-centred system. This is fully in line with improvements being advanced as part of implementing ‘Supporting a Victim’s Journey’, the department’s roadmap to improving the criminal justice system so that it better supports and caters for the needs of vulnerable victims.
These measures include:
legal advice at all stages of the process
assessment of a victim’s needs, in case specific supports or protections are needed
training for all staff who will come into contact with a vulnerable victim