New figures for human trafficking which appear to show a continuing decline here are "very alarming" because they don't ring true, said the Immigrant Council of Ireland. The figures are contrary to European evidence.
Although this year's statistics have not been published yet, a breakdown obtained by The Irish Times shows there were 17 alleged victims between January and June, compared to 44 for all of 2013.
There was also just one reported case of a trafficked child, compared to 16 last year. However, the figures reveal 35 Garda investigations in the first half of the year, with 56 in 2013.
Despite the apparent reduction in numbers – which the Department of Justice refers to as a “snapshot” rather than an estimate – the council said they did not reflect reality.
Chief executive Denise Charlton said even the provisional figures for the first half of the year were "very alarming" as they contradicted international experience which "shows that trafficking . . . is on the rise, so why is Ireland different? We don't think it is."
Ms Charlton said that in the Irish system, victims in the asylum process were not included in the statistics. “It is worrying that the figures have come down. You can say trafficking is on the decline but it isn’t.”
Regarding only one child being recorded in the six-month period, she said: “There is so much evidence that those who enter the sex trade do so as teenagers. Why are we not finding these children?”
While the Department of Justice has yet to be publish its 2013 Annual Report for Trafficking in Human Beings, figures for Ireland released by the US Department of State in June identified 44 potential victims, including 16 children.
Those figures too represented a decline in the cases dealt with by authorities in 2012, when there were 48 alleged victims, including 23 children.
That report noted a “further reduction in the number of reported cases” and said that between 2009 and 2012 “the number of persons originating from outside the EU reported as victims has been declining on a yearly basis”.
Independent TD Denis Naughten said the upcoming legislation on sexual offences must take trafficking and related crimes into account. "We need to look again at our legislation . . . so that we are not only looking at trafficking but mechanisms to prosecute grooming," which could be easier than proving an offence of trafficking, he said.
“What worried me . . . is that it’s now far easier to pick people for trafficking from the EU rather than going . . . outside the EU. That makes it far harder to detect and prosecute.”
The Department of Justice said early 2014 numbers represent "a snapshot [for part of a year] of the number of cases and of potential victims encountered by An Garda Síochána rather than an estimate of the extent of trafficking in Ireland". It said prevention and detection remain priorities.