Address by the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD - Garda Conference on Tackling Trafficking in Human Beings Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership

Garda College Templemore
13 October 2014

Commissioner, Distinguished Guests, members of An Garda Síochána, colleagues –

I am very pleased to be here today.

It is opportune in this week of EU Anti-Human Trafficking Day that you as senior officers in An Garda Síochána come together with international experts, colleagues from other police forces and NGOs to discuss how best to tackle the appalling crime that is trafficking in human beings.

This is no easy task.

You will hear during this conference from international experts, from Europol and Interpol, of their experiences in regard to tackling trafficking as an international phenomenon. But we cannot be complacent and think that this is an issue which does not really affect us here in Ireland.
It happens here.

Any comprehensive response to human trafficking must, as your Conference title says, cover the 4P's. These are Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership.
We must take action to prevent human trafficking, to protect it's victims and prosecute those who perpetrate this evil crime. To achieve these aims we must work in partnership across Government, internationally, with other state agencies and with civil society.

Every year we are identifying victims, in every part of this country. While the number of victims that we are identifying each year are relatively small, I have no doubt that there are more victims out there. When I met with the European Union’s Anti-trafficking Coordinator last week, we discussed the challenges in accurately recording the level of human trafficking. I was pleased to hear the progress that we are now making on this at a European level; though, there remains work to be done.

What is clear from both our own statistics and at a European level is that it is predominantly women and girls who are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation that are being identified. Eurostat have indicated that nearly ten thousand (10,000) suspected victims were identified across Europe in a single year. Nearly two thirds of these victims were women and girls trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. While the reported figures in Ireland are quite low, some forty four (44) suspected victims were identified in 2013, the pattern of exploitation is similar. It is women and girls who are being trafficked and being sexually exploited who make up the significant majority of victims here. As I have already said, these figures are no doubt an underestimate; trafficking is a difficult crime to detect. That is one of the reasons we are putting such emphasis on events like this Conference and on training for all frontline State services.


Preventing Human Trafficking is not a simple task. The material deprivations of victims in their home countries, those who are trafficked to Ireland, make them extremely vulnerable to exploitation. We must continue to operate at both a European level and bilaterally with countries of origin to reduce their vulnerability.

Last week I attended the Ministerial Conference of the Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online in Washington. I saw at first hand the manner in which the internet is being used to sexually exploit children. I was shocked at the extent of the challenge we are facing. I know that excellent work is being done by law enforcement both here and at an international level to disrupt these vile criminal activities. While in Washington, I met with Ambassador CdeBaca, President Obama’s appointee to lead their anti-trafficking response. We discussed the challenges we face; they are shared, and the responses we must develop are similar.

Reducing the demand for the services of victims of trafficking is a significant concern that I share with Ambassador CdeBaca and the EU Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinator, with whom I also discussed this issue. If the demand for the services of victims can be reduced, and hopefully eliminated, the business model of traffickers can be dismantled. And be under no illusion, for them this is a business; traffickers operate only to make money from human misery. And those who purchase the services of these victims fuel this evil trade; they too bear the responsibility for the lives stolen by trafficking.

We have in place in Ireland legislation that criminalises the use of the services of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. However, this legislation only covers situations where the purchaser knows or had reasonable grounds for believing that the person is a victim of trafficking. Proving that such knowledge exists is extremely difficult.

In the near future, I will be bringing forward a new Sexual Offences Bill which will include provisions to combat the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography; it addresses issues such as grooming and harassment. In that context I am also examining what further measures could be taken to reduce the demand for human trafficking, of children and adults.

Many of you will be aware of the Nordic approach to legislation concerning prostitution which focuses on the criminalisation of the purchase of sex. I am examining very carefully the potential for legislative measures of this kind to support our efforts to reduce human trafficking. As well as seeking to reduce the number of people who seek the services of women in prostitution, such legislation can also have an important normative effect. It can send a message, that this is not an acceptable thing to do and over time this can change attitudes, particularly of young people. Of course, legislation of this kind is not simple, nor uncontroversial; it is an issue on which reasonable people may have profound disagreement. Across Europe and, indeed, the world, different approaches have been taken. However, I am determined that any measure that may reduce the toll of human misery that results from trafficking is considered.

I believe that public education and awareness can also play a role in reducing the demand for the services of victims of trafficking; as I have said, changing mindsets is important. My Department is working with a range of partners on an EU funded project that, among other things, will involve a campaign aimed at men and boys focused on the impacts of human trafficking on women.


As members of An Garda Síochána your concern is, of course, to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of this appalling human rights abuse. The best evidence to ensure such cases can be successful often comes from the victims. It is for that reason, that care and assistance to victims is an important element of your role. A victim whose rights have been respected and whose needs have been met is more likely to be a position to help in investigations. This emphasis on victims’ rights is a vital support to police work.

It is you and your Officers who have the potential to change the course of victim’s lives.

This is a point borne out in an interesting piece of research, recently commissioned as part of an EU funded project we are working on with Ruhama, An Garda Síochána, the HSE, the PSNI and others. One of the aims of the research was to consult with women and girls who are vulnerable to or experiencing trafficking for sexual exploitation as to their own experiences; to allow their voices to be heard.

These women had very little English, they were in a strange country and were very frightened. You can only imagine how difficult it would be for them to know how to access support services or vindicate their rights.

The women in this study were strongly of the opinion that the vast majority of girls and women would be unable to escape without police intervention. This is what they said, in their own words:

“Women are scared that he is watching them. They know nothing about the country they are in. Women cannot bring themselves out. They are scared. It has to be the police.”

Safety, confidentiality, trust and kindness were the recurring themes which emerged from these women in relation to all the specialist services they encountered. The importance of the first response emerged as a critical issue for all women. You and your Officers are most often that first interaction with a victim. The first contact victims have with you can determine whether they tell you their story. And it is their story you need to hear, to ensure they are protected and the traffickers brought to justice.So, how are we living up to this responsibility?

I am pleased to say that the experience women had with the Gardaí and the PSNI was generally very positive. Most women described how they were treated in a kind and respectful manner. Again, in their own words:

“Even though I was arrested by the Gardaí, they were kind to me and said they could help. I could not tell them what had happened but one ...... Garda, .. was very nice to me, and ... called Ruhama.”

The kindness and simple human gestures of individual officers were deeply appreciated and remembered:

“The Gardaí were kind even though at first they thought I was guilty of trafficking. They offered me food and said I could have a shower. They offered to buy me socks as I had none and it was cold and said that I could use the ladies loo not the one in the cell. You know humanity… humanity, is very important”

There remain areas for improvements though. Some trafficked women spoke about the difficulty of undergoing numerous Garda interviews about their stories and the feeling of not being believed, and that the Gardaí did not care or understand:

“If someone has had a bad experience of the Gardaí, asking you questions, not believing you then other women will hear that and that will stop them looking for help. And if they have good experience like the woman said of the .....Garda it will be the other way”

I hope the voices of these women resonate with you; these are the victims who are relying on you.


I have spoken about how important victims are in this process, how important it is to support them and the role they can play in supporting investigations. However, victims are very often vulnerable; they may not always tell you the full story. In fact we may rarely encounter a ‘perfect’ victim – whose evidence alone will allow you to resolve investigations. For that reason we need to ensure that the full range of resources are targeted at human trafficking investigations.

Human trafficking is a particularly difficult crime to prosecute and I recognise that even the fact of a crime having been actually committed can be difficult to determine. The crime of Trafficking in Human Beings can often involve a process rather than a single event. The crime can also involve a number of different actors, sometimes operating in a number of different jurisdictions. Unlike in cases where material evidence is provided by seized drugs, weapons or cigarettes, in human trafficking cases the only evidence often rests with an abused and frightened person, often with limited English. This is why I want to emphasise the importance of intelligence led operations, international cooperation and a strategy of 'following the money' to the successful prosecution of traffickers.

The conviction of three persons in Romania for trafficking for labour exploitation in Ireland, largely based on evidence provided by An Garda Síochána, is an excellent example of what I am talking about.


It is worth noting that nearly 4,000 Gardaí have received training in the indicators of human trafficking. This is a clear demonstration of the commitment of the Garda authorities to the fight against trafficking in human beings. But you cannot combat this alone.

One of the many challenges in tackling human trafficking is that it cuts across the responsibilities of such a large number of Government Departments and Agencies, all of whom are necessary for any coherent and effective anti-human trafficking policy.

Human Trafficking requires that policies on a wide variety of issues are coordinated and consistent with the shared objective of preventing and combating trafficking. It is impossible for any one organisation to tackle it alone. It has been obvious from early on that a multi-disciplinary approach, across Government and civil society, is required. My Department carries out this role and we will be publishing, this year, a second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat the Trafficking of Human Beings in Ireland. This Plan will have regard to international evaluations of Ireland's response to human trafficking and there will be a process of consultation with relevant State, Non-Governmental and International organisations prior to its finalisation.

We have good systems in place for working across Government, at an international level and with Civil Society. But, I have no doubt that there are more victims out there and we have an obligation to find and protect them.

I am delighted that so many representatives of the NGO community are present at this Conference and that they will have an opportunity to present to you on the support they can provide to victims, and to you in carrying out your job. I am also pleased that the staff of the HSE and Tusla will be presenting to the Conference. The research I mentioned earlier evidences the outstanding work they are continuing to do in the field of victim care. I want to take this opportunity to personally thank them, and all the other state and NGO services, for performing this vital work.

Trafficking for Labour Exploitation

The study I mentioned earlier focused on women in prostitution, women who were trafficked. But, I have no doubt that their stories would be echoed by men and women who have been the victim of trafficking for labour exploitation.

Trafficking for labour exploitation remains a significant concern. While the reported level of trafficking for labour exploitation in Ireland is significantly lower than for sexual exploitation, this should not lead us to the conclusion that it is a lesser problem. I am not convinced this is the case.
Detecting trafficking for labour exploitation remains a huge challenge; often in these cases the story can be complicated and the level of exploitation can be less clear. We must continue to work with our partners in the National Employment Rights Authority, the Trade Union Movement and NGOs such as the Migrants Right Centre to improve our response to this issue. I am pleased that all these bodies are represented here today.

Events such as this play an important role in the fight against this terrible crime by allowing you the space and opportunity to discuss frankly the variety of issues which face you when seeking to tackle human trafficking and support its victims.

I have outlined to you the challenges I see for us in continuing our fight against trafficking. I have no doubt it is a challenge we will step up to and, for my part, I will endeavour to provide you with the supports you need.

The thought I want to leave you with is not any words from me. It is the voices of the victims I have shared with you today. We have heard their voices; our concern now must be to find and protect those men and women whose voices have yet to be heard.

Thank you.