Victims of human trafficking should have access to a special compensation fund or be directly compensated from funds held by the Criminal Assets Bureau, an immigrant rights group has said.
Publishing its submission on the draft national action plan on human trafficking, the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) said the enactment of the new Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, which will criminalise the purchase of sex, remained its "utmost priority".
But it issued a series of other recommendations for inclusion in the national plan, including the urgent appointment of an independent national rapporteur on human trafficking.
Part of that role would be the monitoring and evaluation of the national plan on human trafficking.
The council welcomed the intention in the draft policy to examine the possibility of compensation for victims.
Existing avenues put victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation at a disadvantage, because in the vast majority of cases they did not have verifiable expenses or employment losses to allow them avail of the Criminal Justice Compensation Tribunal or related bodies.
Eighteen recommendations also include non-discriminatory victim identification and ending the practice of placing victims in direct provision centres.
The council also called for procedures to allow the criminal records of victims to be expunged.
It suggested the issue could possibly be dealt with in the context of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012, which has not yet been enacted.
The council also said it was “regrettable” that the draft national plan continued to give responsibility to the Garda National Immigration Bureau for the identification of victims of trafficking.
It said a fundamental review of this system should be completed “as speedily as possible”.
“The new Child Protection and Exploitation Unit, which already houses the most experienced trafficking investigators, should assume responsibility for the idenfitication of victims in the interim period.”
In its submission, the ICI said it had become increasingly clear in Ireland, as in other jurisdictions operating similar legislation, that the criminalisation of the use of services from a trafficked person in the knowledge that the person had been trafficked, had yielded few convictions.
The prevalent profile of victims was female and a significant number of children were trafficked for sexual exploitation.
The ICI said many victims were European Union and Irish citizens, while a large proportion were third-country nationals.
ICI chief executive Brian Killoran said the decision to proceed with a national action plan honoured a commitment given by the Government three years ago and was an opportunity "to ensure that the shortfalls in Irish laws, policies and procedures are corrected".
The council would be proactively involved in ensuring there was a national plan that would be effective in targeting demand for human trafficking, while also ensuring that victims were “treated with respect and not as criminals”.
Mr Killoran said the council had worked with 19 victims of trafficking in the past year.
"We are asking Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to act without further delay to ensure Ireland is not perceived as a soft target by the organised gangs which run prostitution and sex trafficking."