Ireland urged to do more to investigate and prosecute human traffickers

Watchdog says official figures do not reflect ‘real scale’ of phenomenon in Ireland and trafficking for labour exploitation is under-reported

Ireland has been urged to take “further action” against human trafficking, including improving the prosecution of human traffickers and providing specialised shelters and compensation for victims, by the Council of Europe’s group of experts on human trafficking (Greta).

In its latest evaluation report on Ireland, published on Wednesday, the group also called on Irish authorities to adopt a “national referral mechanism”, which ensures that different agencies are involved in identifying victims of all types of trafficking, and to provide trafficking victims with specialised assistance.

The total number of presumed trafficking victims in the State fell from 103 in 2017 to 44 last year. Sexual exploitation remains the primary form of exploitation, but the number of people trafficked for labour exploitation — in sectors including fishing, farming, construction, catering and domestic work — grew over the same period. The expert group said the figures do not reflect the “real scale of the phenomenon in Ireland”, partly due to “persisting limitations” of the existing procedures for identifying victims.

Trafficking for labour exploitation remains “under-recognised and under-reported”, the report says, and trafficking for criminal exploitation is an area where victims are often not recognised as such.


The report assesses Ireland’s implementation of the Council of Europe convention on human trafficking and covers the situation up to July 1st last. Greta is an independent body which monitors the way countries implement the convention by which all member states are bound, as well as Belarus and Israel. The report notes a number of positive developments since the last evaluation of Ireland in 2017, including the establishment of a human trafficking stakeholders forum in 2020 and the designation of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission as national rapporteur for human trafficking.

The expert group expressed “ongoing concern” over a number of issues. The report says the number of investigations into human trafficking has been decreasing over the years while the number of prosecutions and convictions is “very low”. There have been no convictions for trafficking for labour exploitation in Ireland, despite the increasing number of identified suspected cases, it adds. It is also concerned that no victim of trafficking has received compensation in Ireland, either from their traffickers or the State.

Within the report, Greta has urged Irish authorities to ensure that trafficking victims are appointed a lawyer to represent them in judicial and administrative proceedings, including to claim compensation. It believes Irish authorities should take further steps to ensure that victims of trafficking are not punished for unlawful activities they were compelled to commit. It has also called on authorities to intensify their efforts to combat trafficking for labour exploitation, including by establishing safe reporting procedures for foreign workers and providing targeted support services.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times