Commission Takes on New Role as Ireland’s National Rapporteur on the Trafficking of Human Beings

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has been designated as Ireland’s Independent National Rapporteur on the Trafficking of Human Beings. To bring this change into effect a Statutory Instrument has been signed by the Minister for Justice confirming the Commission in this new additional role.

Article 19 of the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Directive introduces a legally binding requirement for all EU Member States to establish National Rapporteurs or equivalent mechanisms.

As National Rapporteur, the Commission will prepare and publish monitoring reports and thematic reports evaluating Ireland’s overall performance against the State’s international obligations such as the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Directive, the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking (2005) and the Palermo Protocol to the UN Convention against Organised Crime (2000).

Independent Reports of State action will be prepared by the Commission to align with international monitoring in this area. It is expected that reporting by the Commission will provide a strong and credible baseline for external evaluations. The National Rapporteur will also contribute the development of the research and evidence base required to underpin effective monitoring and policy development.

The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking (GRETA) has consistently highlighted crucial gaps in Ireland’s protections for victims of trafficking in human beings. GRETA, along with the US State Department in its recent reporting, have pointed to continued State failings in actions to identify and sufficiently protect trafficking victims in Ireland.

To date, the Commission has used its existing powers to spotlight where the State has failed to tackle human trafficking, and has made recommendations for the steps which need to be taken by Government. This includes  recommendations made to the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking (GRETA), and recently to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Ireland’s need to take steps to prevent trafficking for labour exploitation.

The Commission has warned that victims of trafficking may continue to go unidentified and unaided, and traffickers may continue to act with impunity if there is not significant State action. The Commission has recommended to Government that the victim identification process, the non-punishment principle when dealing with victims of trafficking, and the provision of specialised services and assistance to victims, be placed on a statutory footing.

The Commission used its legal powers to spotlight human trafficking issues in the significant ‘P Case’ of a Vietnamese woman arrested in Ireland, and more recently in relation to safeguards against trafficking and exploitation of fishermen.

The recent budget saw the Commission’s allocated additional resources for 2021 to service the requirements of this Rapporteur function including additional staff and operational resources.

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission:

“The Commission welcomes the opportunity offered by this appointment as Independent Rapporteur to raise the level of scrutiny, oversight and reporting of the State’s actions in combatting human trafficking.

“Ireland is both a destination and source country for human trafficking, including people trafficked for sexual exploitation, domestic work, fishing, agriculture, the hospitality sector, waste management, and car washing services among others.

“The consistently voiced concern of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is that victims of human trafficking in Ireland are not being identified, and not getting the kinds of supports they need.

“With this new function the Commission will ensure that Ireland is held accountable against its international obligations on tackling the scourge of human trafficking.”


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Notes to editor:

The National Rapporteur Role

Article 19 of the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive introduces a legally binding requirement for Member States to establish National Rapporteurs or equivalent mechanisms:

‘Member States shall take the necessary measures to establish national rapporteurs or equivalent mechanisms. The tasks of such mechanisms shall include the carrying out of assessments of trends in trafficking in human beings, the measuring of results of anti-trafficking actions, including the gathering of statistics in close cooperation with relevant civil society organisations active in this field, and reporting.’

Article 20 requires States to transmit the information referred to in Article 19 to the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, in order to inform their contribution to the reporting carried out by the Commission every two years on the progress made in the fight against trafficking.

The Commission’s Role in the ‘P Case’

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (’the Commission’) appeared before the High Court as amicus curiae (friend of the Court) in the judicial review proceedings entitled P. v. Chief Superintendent of the Garda National Immigration Bureau & Ors [2015] IEHC 222.

The case concerned a Vietnamese woman who was discovered by the Gardaí locked in a cannabis “grow house” and who was charged with drugs offences and spent two and a half years in custody. The woman claimed she was a victim of trafficking and that the failure of the Garda to recognise this deprived her of her right to avail of the protection regime for such victims.

The Commission’s submissions in the case questioned the adequacy of the protection regime for persons who claim to be victims of human trafficking and, in particular, the administrative scheme for the identification of such victims, and whether it met relevant human rights standards. The Court found that the State’s administrative scheme for the recognition and protection of victims of human trafficking was inadequate to meet its obligations under EU law aimed at combatting trafficking in human beings.

The Commission’s Role in the ITF v. the Minister for Justice and Equality Case

In April 2019, the Commission welcomed a settlement reached in a case relating to human trafficking and other severe forms of labour exploitation on the Irish fishing fleet. The Commission exercised its function as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case.

The International Transport Worker’s Federation (ITF) brought the case having identified a number of individuals who arrived in Ireland on foot of permits granted under the atypical work permit scheme, who it alleged were subsequently subjected to human trafficking and other severe forms of labour exploitation on Irish fishing vessels. The ITF and the Minister for Justice and Equality presented the terms of a mediated settlement agreed between them to the High Court. The agreement made a number of changes to the atypical work permit scheme for non-EEA fisherman working on the Irish fishing fleet, including:

  • Flexibility for non-EEA fishermen to move to another vessel within a defined time period without risk of visa cancellation and deportation. Their previous employer cannot veto such a move.
  • Inter-agency collaboration between the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Marine Survey Office MSO and the Gardaí if necessary to be streamlined to combat exploitation on board fishing vessels;
  • Greater promotion of awareness among non-EEA fishermen of their rights and entitlements.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.