Ireland on par with Saudi Arabia and Romania for human trafficking, new report says

Ireland’s efforts to eliminate human trafficking have been downgraded this year, according to a new report by the US Department of State.

The annual ‘Trafficking of Persons’ (TIP) report now ranks Ireland alongside Saudi Arabia and Romania as a ‘Tier 2 watch list’ country, after its rating slipped further this year.

Ireland held a Tier 1 rating between 2013 and 2017 but this has slipped since then.

In its 2020 report the US Department of State said Ireland does not meet the minimum standard for the elimination of trafficking despite “significant efforts” to do so.

The report acknowledged efforts to increase prosecutions, funding for non-government organisations for victim assistance, and more anti-trafficking training for police and immigration officers.

It said, however, the government had not shown “overall increasing efforts” compared to 2018 and no trafficking convictions had been secured since new legislation criminalising sex trafficking and labour trafficking in 2013.

A failure to secure to secure a trafficking conviction "weakened deterrence, contributed to impunity for traffickers, and undermined efforts to support victims to testify,” the report stated.

The TIP report also highlighted a lack of specialised accommodation and adequate services for victims and said changes to the working scheme for fishermen had “increased their vulnerability to trafficking”.

The report made more than a dozen recommendations, including discontinuing joint inspection by labour and immigration agencies, developing specialised accommodation for victims, establishing a trafficking hotline and an independent rapporteur of trafficking.

Forced labour is “growing” in Ireland, the report noted, with victims often found working in the restaurant industry, waste management, fishing, seasonal agriculture, car washing services, or as domestic workers, such as, au pairs.

Last year the Garda anti-trafficking unit undertook 39 investigations, of which 36 were for sex trafficking and three for labour trafficking.

Prosecutions were initiated for five suspects, two for sex trafficking and three for forced labour in 2019.

The report, however, found that co-ordination between Gardai and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was “ineffective” and noted the DPP found no evidence of trafficking and did not prosecute in one investigation involving 21 fishermen last year.

“For the sixth year in a row, the government did not convict any traffickers; to date, there have been zero convictions under the anti-trafficking law, as amended — though the government has reported identifying 471 victims since 2013,” the report stated.

Of 42 suspected trafficking victims identified last year, 34 were exploited in sex trafficking and six in labour trafficking, two were a combination of both.

Most of the victims were female (38) and nine were children. No victims were identified in the fishing industry.

Ken Fleming from the International Transport Workers Federation said Ireland’s downgrading did not come as a surprise. “The report is a vindication for everyone outside of the government agencies, who have repeatedly highlighted trafficking issues,” he said.

Mr Fleming cited examples of Indonesian fishermen being paid $600 per month and no action being taken or investigation being pursued when they came off their boats in Dingle, Co Kerry late last year.

He added that it was “beyond belief” that no prosecutions had been taken on behalf of victims of sex trafficking to date: “With all that we know about the sex industry and there are still no prosecutions. So there’s not been a single male or female prostitute that has been brought to Ireland that has been trafficked? That is simply a phenomenon beyond belief”.

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