Gardaí are currently investigating about 80 cases of human trafficking, Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said.
Speaking on World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the minister said that while no one has yet been convicted for human trafficking in Ireland, convictions have been secured for associated charges.
Highlighting the reality of the problem in Ireland, the minister said that last Sunday gardaí in Cork had identified three suspected cases of trafficking.
The three men are believed to have been trafficked into the country by an Eastern European gang, suspected of supplying people to work in farms and factories.
Ms McEntee said there was a National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking and that a high-level group, involving the Department of Justice, the Office of the DPP, and An Garda Síochána, reviewed the legislative and operational framework for investigation and prosecution of trafficking.
She said they were complex cases and that while no one had yet been convicted specifically for the offence of trafficking there had been successful prosecutions for other charges.
She said that a dedicated garda section — the Human Trafficking Investigation and Coordination Unit — combatted this crime.
“I know that An Garda Síochána takes this work very seriously,” she said.
“I understand that there are currently approximately 80 ongoing criminal investigations in this area. For example, just this past Sunday [July 26], gardaí in Cork identified 3 men suspected of having been trafficked into Ireland. Thanks to that intelligence-led search operation, those 3 men are now receiving assistance.”
She said the Department worked with the HSE, the Legal Aid Board, the Immigration Service, and Tusla to support victims of trafficking.
Last month, Ireland was downgraded in the US Trafficking in Persons Report 2020 because of systematic deficiencies in identifying victims and providing them with assistance, including accommodation and victim services.
Ireland used to be in tier one of the US State Department’s list, but two years ago it was downgraded to tier two, with Romania and Bosnia.
The US State Department has put Ireland on a tier two watch list.
Ms McEntee said the Government was taking a number of other steps, including a forum for groups involved in combating human trafficking, which had met for the first time this month.
She said legislation was being drafted to designate the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) as Ireland’s independent National Rapporteur for Anti-Human Trafficking under article 19 of the EU Human Trafficking Directive.
She said a review had commenced of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, which introduced offences of paying for sex with a trafficked person.
She also said there was ongoing engagement by the Department with frontline services to identify solutions to the provision of accommodation to victims of trafficking.
In a series of tweets, An Garda Síochána said human trafficking can occur anywhere.
“Just this week, gardaí led an operation in Cork to help and protect vulnerable people suspected to be victims of human trafficking. We are committed to end human trafficking.”
It said people who suspect someone is being exploited can contact their local garda station or report it anonymously to the Garda Confidential Number 1800 666 111 or Crimestoppers on 1800 25 00 25.
Alternatively, people can email with strict confidentiality to firstname.lastname@example.org.