The events in Essex are a tragedy for all those concerned and 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 is assisting at a high level. I do not wish to say anything that could prejudice those investigations.
On the broader issues raised by the Deputies, it is important 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. The 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. Deputy Breathnach 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, that is, mental, emotional and physical care, immigration permission, legal services, accommodation, material assistance, including supplementary welfare allowance or rent, access to the labour market, vocational training and education, police services, repatriation, translation and interpretation services, and access to education for dependent children.
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 this country and help members of the public identify the signs of human trafficking. More information is available on the Blue Blindfold website 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 human trafficking. Ireland is also active at the international level in fighting human trafficking, in particular through co-operation with partners in the European Crime Prevention Network and Europol.
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, has been in place for ten years, conducting investigations into human trafficking and providing 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 Federal Bureau of Investigation and the PSNI.
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, last year a prosecution the State brought against three suspected traffickers was withdrawn due to the victims choosing to return to their home countries and declining to co-operate with Garda requests for testimony. I met the Garda Commissioner earlier this year on this matter and he outlined an anti-organised crime strategy against trafficking gangs, targeting their finances and their use of the Internet, and by working closely with other jurisdictions.
The annual report of the anti-human trafficking unit of the Department of Justice and Equality indicates that in 2018 there were 64 victims of human trafficking. Of the 64 recorded incidents of human trafficking in Ireland last year, 13 are recorded as having occurred outside the jurisdiction and 51 are recorded as having occurred within the jurisdiction.