My Department has been made aware of a number of cases of human trafficking or exploitation regarding individuals in the fishing industry in Ireland.
I wish to confirm for the Deputy that Government is fully committed to addressing human trafficking in all forms under Irish and EU legislation and the principal international conventions, and that we are active nationally and internationally to do so. With regard to international treaties, Ireland has ratified the principal international Human Trafficking treaties:
- The Palermo Protocol (2000) to the UN Convention against Organised Crime;
- The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005).
The EU Anti Trafficking Directive (2011/36/EU) and in Ireland, the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 and Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Act 2013 are the relevant legislative measures.
In 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. This initiative, by my colleague the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, puts Ireland among the group known as “50 for Freedom”, which stems from an ILO initiative to encourage member countries to ratify the Protocol by the end of 2019.
Domestically, the Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking was launched in 2016. The Action Plan involves 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.
An Garda Síochána has also 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 established to coordinate delivery of national strategy.
Progress has also been made to improve the access of victims to State supports. Where an individual is identified as a suspected victim of human trafficking by HTICU they are eligible to receive State supports and services, including immigration permission, medical care, accommodation and legal advice, through the National Referral Mechanism to assist their recovery. A number of State bodies also provide care and practical support to victims, including the HSE, the International Protection Accommodation Service, the Legal Aid Board, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and Tusla. The International Organisation for Migration provides assistance in relation to returning victims to their country of origin.
My Department also provides funding to several non-governmental organisations for their work to provide support to victims of trafficking.
The Deputy may also wish to note that 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, which is maintained by my Department.
With regard to the reports referred to by the Deputy, I can confirm that my Department continues to work closely with the relevant parties in relation to the Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) Committee and its reporting mechanism alongside the annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
Over the past 12 months, my Department has also been engaging with non-governmental organisations to examine a NGO-led solution to the issue of the accommodation for victims of trafficking in a practical manner. This is an ongoing dialogue with a number of relevant parties.
Any abuses of the employment conditions of any non-EEA National in the Irish fishing industry are a matter for the Workplace Relations Commission, the Marine Survey Office, the Gardaí and other appropriate authorities of the State.