Ireland is failing to meet minimum international standards on combating human trafficking, creating a culture of "impunity for traffickers", a damning report from the US State Department warns.
Its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, regarded as the most comprehensive appraisal of global efforts to combat human trafficking, ranks Ireland as one of the two weakest EU states, alongside Romania.
It ranks Ireland as a ‘tier two watchlist’ state - the third lowest of four rankings. Such states do not meet minimum standards and their estimated number of victims of “severe” forms of trafficking is “very significant or is significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions”.
It is the second consecutive year Ireland has been ranked so badly.
The TIP report says the Irish government in 2020 “investigated and prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers, did not prosecute any labour traffickers, and victim identification decreased for the fourth year in a row”.
“The government continued to have systemic deficiencies in victim identification, referral, and assistance, and lacked specialised accommodation and adequate services for victims.”
A lack of convictions for trafficking “weakened deterrence, contributed to impunity for traffickers, and undermined efforts to support victims to testify” while a problem persists with “inadequate law enforcement efforts”.
The prevalence of human trafficking in Ireland is “likely much higher than official statistics report” it says.
"Foreign trafficking victims identified in Ireland are from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America.
“Traffickers exploit victims… in domestic work, the restaurant industry, cannabis cultivation, nail salons, food processing, waste management, fishing, seasonal agriculture, and car washing services.”
The report says Irish authorities identified 38 trafficking victims last year, compared with 42 in 2019. It was the fewest victims identified since 2013.
Among its 17 detailed recommendations are that gardaí and the courts “vigorously investigate and prosecute suspects, and convict traffickers; improve victim identification and referral systems, and, properly enforce the amended rules for the working scheme for non-EEA sea fishers.
Chief Irish Human Rights and Equality commissioner Sinéad Gibney said the report “must act as a serious wake-up call for the State to act more decisively in combatting trafficking.
“While there have been some positive efforts, including appointment of the Commission as rapporteur, and in recent weeks the first trafficking conviction since 2013, the reality today is that Ireland continues to fall below minimum standards compared to other developed nations.”
In a statement, the Department of Justice said it was “disappointed” that Ireland remained on the tier-two watch-list “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 described human trafficking as “a particularly heinous crime, based on deception and exploitation of vulnerable people” and said combatting it was a priority.
“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,” she said.
Ms Naughton said Ireland was “fully committed to combatting this horrific crime and to improving ways of identifying and supporting victims of it.