178. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Justice the actions her Department is taking to combat the trafficking of human beings into Ireland; if her Department has identified significant obstacles to the successful prosecution of those charged with such offences; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49940/21]


Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton): Human trafficking is a heinous crime based on deception and exploitation of vulnerable people. Combatting it is, and will continue to be, a priority for this Government. Over the past year we have introduced significant measures to combat trafficking, to create a more victim-centred approach to identifying and supporting victims, and to raise awareness and provide training, such as:
The approval by Government last May to revise the National Referral Mechanism framework to make it easier for victims of trafficking to come forward, to be identified and to access advice, accommodation and support;
The drafting of a new National Action Plan on Human Trafficking;
The development of training, through NGOs, targeting front line staff in industries such as hospitality, airline and shipping who may come into contact with trafficked persons;
The improvements being made to the Criminal Justice System to support victims through the implementation of Supporting a Victim's Journey;
The launch of a new awareness raising campaign this month in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to build on the success of previous campaigns:
An increase in funding for supporting victims of crime generally and increased funding dedicated specifically to supporting victims of trafficking.
In addition to highlighting the ongoing work underway to combat human trafficking and support those who are victims of it, it is also important to note the significance of the recent sentences for human trafficking handed down by the Courts and to acknowledge the dedication of An Garda Síochána in investigating and tackling this hideous crime.
Human trafficking cases are complex and it can be challenging to secure convictions, 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.
The majority of victims of human trafficking are vulnerable and traumatised by their experience. Estimating the prevalence of human trafficking is difficult due to the clandestine nature of the crime, its overlap with other illegal activities and there can be a reluctance on the part of victims to report the crime, often due to the trauma they have suffered. In some instances, victims may also be concerned about potential repercussions that reporting human trafficking might have for their extended family.
As the Deputy may be aware, the changes we propose making to the National Referral Mechanism acknowledge that, in addition to An Garda Síochána, other state bodies and NGOs have a role in identifying victims of human trafficking and linking them in with the various supports and services available.
An Garda Síochána is excellent in its role as our competent authority for identifying victims but we know some victims, because of interactions they may have had with law enforcement officials in other countries, have a perception that police cannot be trusted. We want to be sure that every victim of trafficking who ends up in Ireland is identified and helped. That’s why we are proposing to provide a role for other State and non-state organisations in the identification of victims of trafficking.
An Garda Síochána has committed significant resources to the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking in Ireland. A specialised Garda Unit, the Human Trafficking Investigation and Co-ordination Unit (HTICU), has been in place since 2009 to conduct investigations into human trafficking. It also provides advice, support and where necessary, operational assistance to investigations at district level. An Garda Síochána is also active in relation to trafficking gangs through work targeting organised crime - targeting their finances, their use of the internet and by working closely with other jurisdictions.
A High Level Group established in November 2019, which includes An Garda Síochána, my Department and the Office of the DPP, meets regularly and keeps the legislative and operational framework for investigation and prosecution of trafficking under review.
As the Deputy is aware, the decision about whether or not to prosecute a person, and for what crime, is entirely a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions and I, as Minister, have no role in such matters.