The State has been criticised by the US state department’s latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report for failing to do enough to tackle modern slavery.
The 2018 TIP report, released on Thursday, downgrades Ireland to a Tier 2 ranking, on a par with Indonesia and India, for not meeting “the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and for failing to provide specialised services to meet the physical and mental health needs of trafficking victims.
Amid highly critical findings, the report notes concern that the Government’s own immigration permit scheme for trawler crew from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) is making men vulnerable to forced labour.
The Government has not made efforts to reduce the demand for sex trafficking or forced labour, while over the past five years the State has become a “destination and source country” for women, men and children subjugated to sex trafficking and forced labour, writes the report.
Irish children are among those subjected to trafficking in the country, it adds.
The annual TIP report is the principal diplomatic tool used by the US to press foreign governments to act against trafficking, and the State’s Tier 2 ranking is highly embarrassing for an advanced economy, according to Mark Lagon, former TIP ambassador at the state department.
“It is a credit to the credibility of the US report that the US is willing to be candid about another western advanced market democracy,” he said.
“We have learned that Global North nations like Ireland have permitted ungoverned and grey zones to allow human slavery in fishing to flourish. High-capacity governments must close loopholes permitting gross exploitation.”
The Republic had held a Tier 1 position since before 2011. A Tier 1 ranking is defined as a country whose government fully meets the minimum standards of the US’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The report notes that the State has not obtained a trafficking conviction since the 2008 human trafficking Act was amended in 2013.
There were 115 trafficking-related cases in 2017. Of these, 65 involved sexual exploitation, 37 involved labour exploitation, five involved forced criminality, five involved immigration offences, one involved organised begging and two were uncategorised. Just three people were prosecuted for forced labour in 2017.
Some 68 victims of trafficking last year were female and 35 were male, while 28 were Irish, 14 were Romanian, 12 were from Indonesia and 12 were Nigerian. Half of all victims were EU nationals.
The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings is cited in the report as expressing concern about “the inadequate criminal justice response” to trafficking in Ireland and warning that the failure to convict traffickers could “contribute to impunity and undermine efforts to support victims to testify”.
The report criticises the Government for “maintaining insufficient victim protection efforts” and for shortcomings in its methods for identifying trafficking victims.
It notes that NGOs reported a lack of specialised services to address the physical and mental health needs of victims and that the Government did not provide legal assistance to victims referred by gardaí during investigations or trials.
Housing victims in direct provision centres was described as unsuitable because of the lack of privacy and the potential for further exploitation, the report says.
The lack of specialised services in direct provision centres for female victims who had been traumatised due to psychological, physical or sexual violence is also underlined.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation said the downgrading of the Republic reflected the union’s own findings that “human rights are under constant attack in the fishing sector by unscrupulous and greedy employers”.
The union has begun proceedings in the High Court to injunct the Government’s permit scheme for non-EEA trawler crew for facilitating modern slavery.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland also called for urgent action from the Government to improve its record on the issue, and said the TIP report constituted “grave news”.
Criticism from the High Court and from the Council of Europe has already made it clear that the Irish systems for supporting victims of trafficking are inadequate, it commented.
A spokesman from the Department of Justice said it disagreed with the State’s Tier 2 designation as well as a number of aspects of the report, and had conveyed these views to the US embassy.
He said the department’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit expected to publish its annual report for 2017 in the near future and that that report would bring “further clarity” to the extent of human trafficking in Ireland.
He said that those who work at Irish points of entry, who work in direct provision centres and who inspect workplaces undergo regular training on the issue and that all potential victims of trafficking referred to the Garda had their claims investigated and received supports.
Those unwilling to go to gardaí may receive support through NGOs, and a review of the system of identifying victims is ongoing, said the spokesman.
He added that a number of cases relating to human trafficking remained before the courts, with trial dates set for later this year.
Additional reporting: Guardian