New referral mechanism needed to support victims of trafficking, IHREC says

Rights and equality commission calls for specialised shelter for victims of trafficking

‘Trafficking in Ireland remains a pervasive crime. Its victims are often hidden but should not be faceless,’ says chief commissioner of the IHREC. Photograph: iStock

‘Trafficking in Ireland remains a pervasive crime. Its victims are often hidden but should not be faceless,’ says chief commissioner of the IHREC. Photograph: iStock


Victims of trafficking in Ireland urgently need the State to introduce a new national referral mechanism so they can be identified, released from their exploitation and supported as quickly as possible, the Council of Europe has been told.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), Ireland’s independent national rapporteur on the trafficking of human beings, will also warn in its submission to the Council of Europe on Monday that the accommodation of victims of trafficking needs an “urgent overhaul” and cannot be treated as a secondary issue in the process of winding down the direct provision system.

“The delayed delivery of a specialised shelter for victims of trafficking is particularly urgent in light of all the evidence of the gender-specific nature of trafficking to Ireland,” it notes.

In the submission to the Council of Europe’s group of experts on action against trafficking in human beings (GRETA), the IHREC notes that victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation are “almost exclusively migrant women” and that human trafficking is “a highly gendered and racial act”.

In 2020, the State indicated plans to begin a pilot accommodation service for victims of trafficking under the aegis of civil society organisations Ruhama and Depaul Ireland. However, there have been further delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restructuring within the Department of Justice, warns the IHREC.


The national referral mechanism (NRM), which was approved by Cabinet in May and “needs to be progressed” this year, to enable the State and civil society to co-operate, share information about potential victims, identify those victims and facilitate their access to advice, accommodation and support, notes the IHREC.

Once operational, the NRM must be applicable to all suspected trafficking victims regardless of their nationality and immigration status and is a “crucial component of the non-punishment principle that should underpin Ireland’s response to human trafficking”.

A new national action plan on preventing and combatting human trafficking, which includes a focus on identifying child victims of trafficking, is also needed, says the IHREC.

While the State has already taken measures to discourage the demand that fosters sexual exploitation and leads to human trafficking, more needs to be done to stem this demand, it adds.

The Government must also publish, at the earliest available opportunity, a “clear outline” of the Department of Justice’s anti-human trafficking co-ordination structure and work programme. Better data on trafficking is also needed as current data is of “insufficient quality and in need of improvement,” says the IHREC.

Pervasive crime

“Trafficking in Ireland remains a pervasive crime. Its victims are often hidden but should not be faceless, said Sinéad Gibney, chief commissioner of the IHREC. “They are daughters, sons, parents and grandparents. They are people exploited while simply seeking better lives for themselves and their families.”

Council of Europe officials will travel to Ireland later this year for detailed meetings on the State’s response to tackling human trafficking. Its visit will follow Ireland’s downgrading to a “tier-two watch list state” in the US state department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report earlier this year. Ireland is one of only two EU States, along with Romania, currently on the tier-two watch list. Other nations with this ranking include Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burundi, Ethiopia, Pakistan and South Africa. It is the second consecutive year Ireland has been ranked so badly.