Human trafficking report published
A report accusing Irish authorities of underestimating the true scale of human trafficking is a wake-up call for Government, campaigners said.
A human rights watchdog criticised Ireland for the "very low" number of pimps being prosecuted for bringing women and girls into the country.
The Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings' (Greta) also raised concerns over suspected victims being forced to stay in accommodation centres for asylum seekers.
Justice Minister Shatter said the report would be a useful independent overview of Ireland's progress on the issue to date and a useful learning experience.
However, the Immigrant Council of Ireland called on Government to urgently act on the shortfalls identified.
Denise Charlton, chief executive, said it is clear Ireland's response to one of the biggest crimes in Europe is not good enough.
"This report is a wake up call and shows that these and other steps must be taken," she said.
Greta found that despite important steps being taken, including the adoption of anti-trafficking legislation, a comprehensive action plan and the creation of several specialised bodies, more needs to be done.
It wants NGOs further involved in implementing anti-trafficking policy and identifying victims, and told authorities to adapt accommodation and services to meet the needs of victims.
"The Irish authorities should also strengthen efforts to tackle trafficking for labour exploitation, as well as improving prevention and protection measures concerning children," it said in its first evaluation report.
"The report stressed that gaps in the procedure for identifying victims, together with a low conviction rate for trafficking-related offences, may mean that the true scale of the problem is underestimated."
Mr Shatter said the report was an important contribution to supporting the ongoing development of policies and practices to combat the heinous human rights abuse.
"While much has been done in Ireland in a relatively short period of time in the area of preventing and combating human trafficking, I believe that there is much to be learned from independent evaluations of our approach to this issue and the Irish Government continues to be committed to tackling the issue of human trafficking, supporting victims and pursuing traffickers," he said.
"I welcome the positive comments made in the report in relation to our efforts to date and will carefully consider the insights of the group of experts in relation to our approach."
Hundreds of women and teenage girls are believed to be trafficked into Ireland every year and forced to work as prostitutes or slave labour, but just 57 cases were reported to gardai in 2011.
Greta found there had been only nine convictions under the human trafficking act by the end of 2012, and three convictions under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 in 2011.
A further three prosecutions were due before the courts and a large file was with the Director of Public Prosecutions during its visit in November 2012.
Elsewhere, it found there have been no convictions for trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation.
"The number of prosecutions and convictions for the trafficking of human beings is still very low and the length of criminal proceedings is also a matter of concern," it added.
The expert team focused on the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by authorities.