Gardai probe diplomats over people trafficking
GARDAI are investigating at least seven foreign diplomats for alleged human trafficking and forced labour offences.
The cases involve foreign ambassadors and lower-level diplomats bringing domestic workers with them from their home countries and keeping them in slave-like conditions here.
A victim in one of the cases told the Irish Independent she was brought to Ireland to look after the children of a diplomat in his private residence. She was promised payment and told she would be able to further her education.
However, the woman worked a 17-hour day without wages, was not allowed to study, and rarely left the house.
Her ordeal lasted three years and she only told gardai of her ordeal after her escape.
As yet, no one has been prosecuted as a result of the investigations.
Officers have cited diplomatic immunity, alleged offenders leaving the country, and difficulty gathering evidence as reasons why charges have not been brought.
Concern over the issue has prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to draw up a list of proposed conditions for diplomats to abide by.
The proposals currently being considered include measures compelling diplomats to provide staff with written contracts and to pay wages electronically.
Under the proposals, a diplomat's visa could be cancelled if they failed to abide by the conditions.
Foreign diplomatic staff arriving in Ireland are only informed they must respect Irish law; they do not have to sign up to any special charter regarding employment of staff.
The department is expected to make a decision on the proposed conditions for diplomats shortly.
Sources said it was currently involved in a consultation process with other government bodies and other stakeholders on the proposals.
"If we put in place these safeguards we can stop this practice across the board," said Grainne O'Toole, of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI), which provides assistance to victims who were trafficked for labour.
Gardai said all of the complaints against embassy staff were investigated fully, despite the fact that officials had diplomatic immunity.
Some investigations have been completed and files sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, while others were still ongoing.
But if the DPP directs that a criminal charge be brought, the suspect person cannot be charged here unless diplomatic immunity is waived.
In some of the investigations officers found a "culture clash" arose, where the practice of using under-age children as domestic servants was commonplace in their home country and diplomats did not believe they were breaking the law.
Details of the investigations have emerged shortly after new figures confirmed at least 48 people, including 23 children, were trafficked into Ireland in 2012.
Six of those were trafficked for labour exploitation, while 39 were subjected to sexual exploitation.
Three were cases of illegal immigration.
The figures were contained in a Council of Europe report which found that gaps in the identification procedure and a low rate of prosecutions in Ireland could be leading to an under-estimation of the scale of the problem here.
The report was critical of the low level of prosecutions for human trafficking in Ireland.
It also suggested a lack of specialist prosecutors could be a reason for the low prosecution rate. Previous reports by the US Department of State have shown Ireland has been an established people trafficking and transit country for over a decade.
The MRCI said it had dealt with 120 cases of labour trafficking in the past six years.
It referred 22 of those cases to the gardai, none of which have resulted in prosecutions to date.
The cases included people who ended up working in slave-like conditions as domestic staff, in restaurants, circuses and on farms.
The Department of Justice said it was currently developing a new national action plan on trafficking which will be published by the end of the year.
By Shane Phelan and Tom Brady