The Irish Times view on human trafficking: Ireland falls short

Nobody has ever been convicted of trafficking in people in the Republic

A specialised Garda unit focused on human trafficking was established, and there are around 80 ongoing criminal investigations in train, according to the Department of Justice. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A specialised Garda unit focused on human trafficking was established, and there are around 80 ongoing criminal investigations in train, according to the Department of Justice. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

In recent years, having for so long failed even to acknowledge it as a distinct category of crime, the State has taken important steps to counter human trafficking. The 2008 Human Trafficking Act, amended in 2013, criminalised sex trafficking and labour trafficking and set down penalties of up to life imprisonment. NGOs working with victims were given more funding, gardaí and immigration officials received training in the area and a public information campaign was undertaken to increase awareness of the crime.

A specialised Garda unit focused on human trafficking was established, and there are around 80 ongoing criminal investigations in train, according to the Department of Justice.

And yet serious gaps remain. As underlined in the latest Trafficking in Persons report, published annually by the US State Department, the State has not obtained a single trafficking conviction since the law was amended in 2013. The Government continues to have “systemic deficiencies in victim identification, referral and assistance” and it lacks specialised accommodation and adequate services for victims, the report states.

As a result of these shortcomings, the report downgraded Ireland to its “tier 2 watch-list” (the State was in “tier 1” as recently as 2017 and had been in “tier 2” since 2018), saying the Government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”.

It is estimated that the majority of those trafficked into Ireland end up in sexual slavery while the remainder are forced into work in fishing, agriculture, the restaurant industry, waste management, car-washing services and domestic homes. In 2019, Irish authorities identified 42 suspected victims, compared with 64 in 2018 and 57 in 2017.

The Department of Justice says that while nobody has yet been convicted specifically for trafficking, there have been successful convictions on associated charges. But the offence itself, like all law, has an important normative and deterrent function, and it needs to be used if the State is to have any hope of eliminating this terrible crime.

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