A new report has found that Ireland does not “fully meet” the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking but is making “significant efforts” to do so.
According to the latest worldwide Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Ireland has improved its ranking and the Irish Government has demonstrated “overall increasing” efforts when compared to the 2020 report.
The TIP report is published by the US State Department and it gives each government a ranking based on their compliance with the standards outlined in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
It ranks nations into one of four ‘Tiers’ – Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 'Watchlist' and Tier 3.
Ireland was previously in Tier 1 but in 2018 it was demoted to the Tier 2 ‘Watchlist’.
"Considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity...Ireland was upgraded to Tier 2,” the report said.
Ireland was upgraded for efforts including an increase in convictions, including two convictions under the anti-trafficking law for the first time since at least 2013 - and for consequently assigning "significant sentences".
“The Government formally recognised seven sea fishers as trafficking victims and identified potential trafficking victims during inspections, which was an increase compared with prior year reporting,” the report said.
"The Government also expunged more than 600 prior convictions for commercial sex offenses, many of which may have involved prior sex trafficking victims, and launched an awareness campaign in partnership with an international organisation. Furthermore, the Government increased funding for victim assistance and for public awareness and prevention efforts compared with the prior year.”
However, the report also found that the Irish Government did not meet the minimum standards in “several key areas”, as fewer suspected traffickers were prosecuted than the prior year, “systemic deficiencies” in victim identification, referral, and assistance “persisted”, and services for victims remained “inadequate”.
It also said the Government did not “uniformly” screen for trafficking in vulnerable populations, like sea fishers, before referring them to immigration authorities for deportation, “even when victims self-identified”.
"The Government did not adopt an updated national anti-trafficking action plan (NAP), amend its national referral mechanism, or overhaul its accommodation framework for trafficking victims, which continued to leave victims with inadequate and unsuitable accommodations,” the report said.
“The Government did not report providing trafficking specific training to any judges, remained without legal safeguards to protect victims from prosecution for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, and did not report awarding restitution or compensation for trafficking to any victims in 2021.”
The report said the Government needs to increase efforts to identify and protect all victims, especially Irish citizens, victims of labour trafficking and forced criminality, and vulnerable populations like children, sea fishers, and asylum-seekers.
The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) has been working with victims of trafficking for labour exploitation for almost two decades. To date, it has assisted over 270 people where labour trafficking was suspected, in sectors such as domestic work, agriculture, car washes, and restaurants.
MRCI senior legal officer Isabel Toolan said while the progress is “encouraging”, it is “disappointing” that Ireland could only achieve Tier 2 ranking.
"Although MRCI is happy to see that some efforts have been made, it is not surprising that Ireland did not achieve Tier 1 status,” she said.
"There are still pressing issues, particularly the fact that the gardaí remains in charge of victim identifications, and that the NRM has not been legislated for. Furthermore, there have been no convictions for trafficking for labour exploitation. If Ireland wants to reach Tier 1 next year, a new system of identification and NRM (national referral mechanism) must be introduced as a matter of urgency.”
Meanwhile, the Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Sinéad Gibney said while progress is going in the right direction, Ireland is starting from a “very low base”, as it is ranked as one of the worst countries in Europe for its responses to trafficking.
“While positive commitments have been made by the Government in relation to the urgent need for a modern national referral mechanism and a new national action plan, the real test will be their speedy implementation, their effectiveness, and a continued State prioritisation of real actions to tackle human trafficking,” she added.
“It’s clear to us that key preconditions for an effective human trafficking response remain unfulfilled, including gender specific accommodation for victims of trafficking. This is an essential practical arrangement that has to be established to put Ireland on track to fulfil its obligations to support victims of this heinous crime.”