PRESS RELEASE by Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The National Rapporteur on Trafficking of Human Beings has today responded to the US State Department’s 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) as Rapporteur, welcomes the publication of the Report that recognises the increased efforts that Ireland is making to eliminate human trafficking. Ireland remained on Tier 2 for the third consecutive year.

Ireland’s efforts this year included adopting a National Action Plan on Trafficking in Human Beings to guide national-level trafficking coordination, opening its first specialised shelter for women victims of trafficking. The Commission welcomed the NAP, especially its alignment with the National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence in the area of demand reduction and the opening of specialised shelters, as repeatedly recommended by the Commission in previous years.

Law enforcement initiated more investigations, prosecutors initiated the country’s first prosecutions for labour trafficking, and courts convicted more traffickers under non-trafficking statutes. Government officials participated in extensive international investigations and partnerships, which resulted in identifying victims and arresting suspected traffickers.

However, the Government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  No people were convicted of trafficking, and instead prosecution of these crimes relied on non-trafficking statutes that may have resulted in inadequate penalties, according to the report. Indeed, Ireland has never convicted a trafficker for labour trafficking under our anti-trafficking law.

Systemic deficiencies in victim identification, referral, and assistance persist. The Government did not yet amend its National Referral Mechanism which is the system used for the early identification and assistance of victims of trafficking.  It did not overhaul its framework for providing accommodation to trafficking victims, which continues to leave the majority of victims with inadequate and unsafe accommodation in Direct Provision. The Government did not report providing trafficking-specific training to any judges. Courts did not award restitution or compensation to victims for the crime of human trafficking.

In the coming year, we must see the adherence to the non-punishment principle through the amendment of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking) Bill. This Bill should amend the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 to include a specific statutory defence for victims of trafficking where they have committed crimes “as a direct consequence of them being trafficked”, and the introduction of a standalone offence in Irish law for holding a person in slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour.

The Commission recommends that the State establishes a National Referral Mechanism for the identification and assistance of victims of human trafficking without delay with statutory assistance for victims. We also call for the swift implementation of the National Action Plan on Trafficking in Human Beings regarding gender-specific, specialised shelters for victims in sufficient numbers.

The Commission recommends that the Law Reform Commission considers the specific needs of trafficked victims in its review of compensation. In doing so, it should consider the inclusion of ‘pain and suffering’ as a ground for compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme and the need to make provision for expert witness reports to substantiate claims related to ‘pain and suffering’ in compensation claims.

The Commission recommends that the State explore the feasibility of establishing a ring-fenced fund for compensation for victims of trafficking with the confiscated proceeds of crime from trafficking and other related offences.

The Commission reiterates its recommendation that the State provides sufficient funding to specialist trafficking and organisations serving victims of gender-based violence, that would enable them to provide trafficking-specific services to victims who have experienced gender-based violence and other forms of severe exploitation.

Deirdre Malone, IHREC Director said,

“We welcome recent positive developments in the State’s effort to fight the scourge of human trafficking, but this year we need to see a concerted focus to ensure Ireland can reach Tier One, and proactively deliver action for victims of human trafficking.”