Belfast Telegraph

Human trafficking 'handled inadequately by Irish criminal justice system'

A European watchdog has warned that Ireland's criminal justice system is inadequate for dealing with human trafficking.

Between 2012 and 2016 more than 300 presumed victims were reported to or detected by gardai, a review has found.

More than half were females and 94 were children.

According to the Council of Europe - the 47-nation organisation which oversees the European Court of Human Rights - Ireland is primarily a destination country for traffickers but increasingly people are being trafficked within these shores.

Seventy-three of the presumed victims were Irish and the majority of them were children who were sexually abused and exploited.

But the watchdog's Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (Greta) warned that the Government's efforts to tackle the issue of trafficking fall short.

"Greta is concerned by the inadequate criminal justice response to human trafficking in Ireland and notes that failure to convict traffickers and the absence of effective sentences engenders a feeling of impunity and undermines efforts to support victims to testify," it said.

The Council of Europe called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to develop specialism in trafficking issues and for investigating units in the Garda, immigration offices and the state's employment rights units to be resourced properly.

It said more should be done to educate and train gardai, prosecutors and judges about the seriousness of trafficking, the severe impact of exploitation on the victims and the need to respect their human rights.

The Greta report called for a review of the law to address gaps.

It warned that the number of prosecutions for trafficking offences was low compared with the number of investigations - 58 from 2012 to 2015.

"Human trafficking cases require significant investment to ensure that there is no over-reliance on vulnerable victims and that those benefiting from the exploitation are identified and sanctioned, including through following the money flows and online activity and engaging in transnational co-operation," the report said.

Victims of trafficking are most likely forced into sex work, the review said.

But it found 82 people were essentially slaves forced into work, another 13 victims were ordered to commit crime and there was one case of forced begging.

Some 121 people came from Europe and 50 from west Africa.

But the Council of Europe, which focuses on human rights and democracy, warned that the numbers do not truly reflect the scale of the phenomenon in Ireland, due to difficulties in identifying victims.

It accepted evidence from the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) that an increasing demand for foreign workers, a shortage of legal migration and inconsistencies around the law are creating a large undocumented population in Ireland.

It is estimated to be up to 26,000 people.

The Greta report raises concerns about pop-up car washes run by organised crime gangs, particularly from Romania. They recruit vulnerable unemployed men with the promise of a well-paid job in Ireland.

It also raised concerns about the issue of sham marriages and cannabis grow houses.

Inspectors from the watchdog also took issue with the state forcing victims of trafficking to live in Direct Provision centres.

The Council of Europe called for victims to have access to a compensation scheme and for an independent rapporteur to be appointed to deal with allegations related to trafficking.

It also said anyone hiring an au pair should be forced to open their doors to inspectors.

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