Topical Issue Debate- Human Trafficking
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I would like to thank the Deputies for raising this matter.
Let me say at the outset that the events in Essex are a tragedy for all those concerned and for their families and friends – to whom I would express my deepest sympathies and condolences.
I am conscious that that incident is the subject of an ongoing investigation in the United Kingdom, and in relation to which An Garda Síochána are assisting. I do not wish to say anything which could prejudice those investigations.
In relation to the broader issues raised by the Deputies, it is important that to differentiate between human trafficking and migrant smuggling.
While both are criminal activities frequently involving criminal networks seeking to make a profit, there are important distinctions.
This Government is fully committed to addressing human trafficking and migrant smuggling under Irish and EU legislation and the principal international conventions. However, as the Deputies have raised questions specifically on anti-human trafficking, I will focus on that topic in this response.
The Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking in Ireland was launched in 2016 and core to this is a victim-centred and human rights based approach with the ultimate aims of preventing human trafficking, ensuring an effective criminal justice response and delivery of supports to victims.
The Deputy raised in particular the question of support for victims. Ireland endeavours to achieve best practice in its victim centred approach to combating human trafficking. When suspected victims of human trafficking are either encountered by, or referred to An Garda Síochána, they are provided with a wide range of services by both the Government and NGOs through the National Referral Mechanism.
These include health services (mental, emotional and physical care), immigration permission, legal services, accommodation, material assistance (supplementary welfare allowance, rent) access to the labour market, vocational training and education, police services, repatriation, translation/interpretation services and access to education for dependent children.
The Department of Justice and Equality also provides funding to several Non-Governmental Organisations for their work to provide support to victims of trafficking.
Identification of victims is a key component in the process of tackling human trafficking and accordingly, the relevant authorities in Ireland fund and deliver a variety of specialised anti-human trafficking training to State officials. Particular emphasis in this training is placed on the identification and provision of appropriate assistance to suspected victims of human trafficking. The Garda Síochána plays a leading role in this process.
Action is also being taken to raise public awareness in Ireland and help members of the public identify the signs of human trafficking. More information is available on the “Blue Blindfold” website, http://www.blueblindfold.gov.ie, maintained by the Department of Justice and Equality.
It may also be noted that EU Anti-Trafficking Day is marked annually on 18 October. To mark that, the Department of Justice and Equality partnered with 23 other European states in a campaign to raise awareness to the issue of Trafficking in Human Beings to mark EU Anti-Trafficking Day.
Ireland is also active at the international level in relation to human trafficking, in particular through cooperation with partners in the European Crime Prevention Network (ECPN) and EUROPOL. On 4 February this year, Ireland ratified the ILO Forced Labour Protocol, which reinforces the international legal framework for combating all forms of forced labour, including trafficking in persons.
An Garda Síochána has committed significant resources to the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking. A specialised Garda Unit, the Human Trafficking Investigation and Co-ordination Unit (HTICU), has been in place since 2009 to conduct investigations into human trafficking and provides advice, support and where necessary, operational assistance to investigations at district level. Members of An Garda Síochána have this year undertaken Human Trafficking training courses delivered by the PSNI and FBI.
The Deputy referred to prosecutions in this field. These are complex cases and Deputies will appreciate that it can be challenging to secure convictions in human trafficking cases, for a range of reasons including difficulties in securing sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of coercion or deception of the victim. For example, a prosecution the State brought against three suspected traffickers in 2018 was withdrawn due to the victims choosing to return to their home countries and declining to cooperate with Garda requests for testimony. I met with the Garda Commissioner earlier this year in relation to this matter and the Commissioner outlined an anti-organised crime strategy against trafficking gangs; targeting their finances, their use of the internet and by working closely with other jurisdictions.
I would point out that the Annual Report of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Department of Justice and Equality, in 2018, there were 64 victims of human trafficking. Of the 64 recorded incidents of human trafficking in Ireland in 2018, 13 are recorded as having occurred outside the jurisdiction and 51 are recorded as having occurred within the jurisdiction. An Garda Síochána continue to vigorously pursue a number of cases where action was initiated prior to 2018, and have commenced action in a number of new cases. An Garda Síochána continues to actively engage with the DPP in terms of pursuing further prosecutions in 2019.Given the international dimension of the crime, it has developed strong links with European police services. Interpol and Europol channels are regularly used for investigations.
These and other measures will continue to address this scourge.