EU Told of Ireland’s Systemic Failures in Identifying Victims of Trafficking

Commission Makes First EU Contribution as Ireland’s National Rapporteur on Trafficking of Human Beings

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is today providing its first independent update to the European Union on Ireland’s response to tackling the trafficking of human beings.

The Commission will set out to EU Partners that the State is currently falling down on ensuring the early identification of victims of trafficking. There is an urgent need for a national identification referral process to be put in place, and within that for the Health Service Executive (HSE) to embrace their crucial role. Having this ID process in place is essential to ensure victims can be treated appropriately, can avoid being criminalised and are given early access to necessary support services.

The Commission meets today with the EU Network of National Rapporteurs on Trafficking in Human Beings, to provide its update on Ireland’s progress.  The Commission was designated in October 2020 as Ireland’s Independent National Rapporteur on the Trafficking of Human Beings. 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.

Further points that will be set out to the meeting of EU Rapporteurs on the basis of limited data currently available include:

  • Gender-specific shelters represent an area where urgent improvement is yet to take place.
  • Trafficking for sexual exploitation is the prevalent type of exploitation in Ireland with trafficking for these purposes proving resilient to the pandemic.
  • Trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation in Ireland is a cyber-operated activity based on internet advertising through websites registered outside of the jurisdiction.
  • The European Economic Area, Africa and to a lesser extent Asia are the relevant regions of origins of victims of trafficking of women for the purposes of sexual exploitation in Ireland. The trend of increased trafficking of third country national women from the African continent is easily detectable from the available data.
  • Trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation sees notable sporadic surges linked to the operations of various production and service sectors.

As National Rapporteur, the Commission is tasked to 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). A new unit within the Commission has been established and resourced to deliver on this important work. The work of this team is being headed up by anti-trafficking expert Dr. Nusha Yonkova.

The Commission will note to EU partners legislative changes in Ireland, which seem to present a consistent approach to discouraging demand that fosters sexual exploitation. The Commission will also positively note the recent statement of the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announcing plans for legislation to retrospectively expunge over 600 convictions obtained for ‘sale of sex’ or prostitution offences. This can be a significant step in recognising and responding to the needs of victims of sex trafficking, and those forced to provide sexual services.

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.

Specific data in relation to Ireland as both a destination and source country for human trafficking is currently severely lacking, as the identification of victims is inconsistently and poorly reported. According to the latest EU-wide figures from the European Commission, there were more than 14000 registered victims within the European Union. The actual number is likely to be significantly higher as many victims remain undetected. Women and girls remain the majority of victims of trafficking for all forms of exploitation as they represent 72% of all EU victims. Children constitute nearly a quarter of all victims in the EU, with girls (78 %) making up the vast majority of child victims.

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

“The Commission is determined to use this new EU Anti-Trafficking Rapporteur role and the related powers conferred on us to drive progress in State action to tackle human trafficking into and out of Ireland.

“The Commission has consistently warned that victims of trafficking will continue to go unidentified and unaided, and traffickers will continue to act with impunity if there is not significant State action. Such action is required on the victim identification process, the non-punishment principle when dealing with victims of trafficking, and the placing of specialised services and assistance to victims on a statutory footing.”


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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.

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.

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.