Latest figures show 417 people believed to have been trafficked were discovered by or reported to gardaí here between 2009 and 2015, the majority of them women sold into the sex industry.
However, a sizeable number were children and other adults used in begging, criminality, and as slave labour in private homes and businesses.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has restated a pledge to tackle the crime she described as “despicable”, in part by using the public as the eyes and ears of the authorities in helping to identify victims.
Her promise came as she launched the Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking. It replaces the initial plan which covered the years 2009-2012.
Ms Fitzgerald said: “Trafficking of human beings is a crime against humanity which has no place in a modern and civilised society. It undermines the human rights and dignity of the person and requires a response from all of society.
“This second National Action Plan sets out a series of actions which, when pursued together with partners both State and non-State, will bring more perpetrators to justice and free victims from this form of modern slavery,” she said.
Many of the aims of the first plan remain in place, with added emphasis on identifying victims of trafficking at an earlier stage through greater engagement with trade unions, employer bodies, schools, health services, and the general public.
“Our experience to date in Ireland has shown that trafficking is not confined to the sex trade and is taking place in a range of legitimate industries under the guise of genuine employment,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“I want to raise awareness of the issue among the general public and to encourage anyone who suspects that trafficking may be taking place, to report their suspicions to the gardaí.”
Extra efforts are also to be made to prevent rescued people becoming revictimised in the future. The plan says consideration needs to be given to issuing unique identifers to victims to help track their progress and safety.
The plan acknowledges the difficulties faced by gardaí in prosecuting traffickers because of the clandestine and often international nature of the crime and the fear victims have of giving evidence.
However, it states: “These difficulties do not justify inaction.”
A particular difficulty arises where people are trafficked for participation in criminal activity such as begging and bag-snatching so that they are both victim and perpetrator. The plan says guidelines need to be drawn up for the effective handling of such cases.
Of the known victims, the single biggest group came from west Africa, followed by the EU and Ireland, with others coming from South America, central Asia, and the south Pacific.
The plan was welcomed by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and Ruhama, both of which assist victims. However, Ruhama CEO Sarah Benson warned that those people detected were “only the tip of the iceberg”.