Remarks by John Cunningham,
Chair of the Immigrant Council of Ireland
To open Upholding Rights: Early Legal Intervention for victims of human trafficking
Thursday 14th January 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen, partners, invited guests, members of the Oireachtas, representatives of the Garda Commissioner and the Department of Justice - as Chair of the Immigrant Council of Ireland it is my pleasure to welcome you to this important and timely conference, ‘Upholding Rights: Early Legal Intervention for victims of human trafficking’.
It is an honour for us to host a gathering of some of the greatest legal minds in the area of human trafficking not just from Ireland but from across the continent.
The Immigrant Council is proud to have lead the ELI project over the past two-years and at the outset it is important to acknowledge the dedication, time and effort given by each and every one of our partners.
As frontline agencies we have come together to achieve our common goal of ensuring that men, women and children trafficked into our communities for the purposes of sexual or labour exploitation are offered protection, support and hope.
We all know at first hand that too often those vulnerable people who have been targeted by traffickers are treated like criminals rather than offered the support they are entitled too.
At the Immigrant Council of Ireland we know this only too well – with figures we released earlier this week confirming that 31 women trafficked for sexual exploitation sought our support in the past year.
The barriers each faced include immigration issues, safe and secure accommodation and even criminal charges – often while their pimps and traffickers escape justice.
Clearly something is wrong.
Later today the ELI toolkit will be published – it sets out best practice to try and ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated in individual countries and across Europe.
You have all been circulated with our list of speakers – including UK Independent Anti- Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland OBE, Human Rights Barrister and Trafficking in Persons Hero 2015 Parosha Chandran, our dear friend Siobhan Mullally of the Council of Europe and UCC, former UN special Advisor Asohe Aghatise to name just a few.
I have also mentioned that we have strong representation of both the Gardaí and the Department of Justice here today – this is partularly welcome because it is only through a partnership approach with police and the agencies of the State that we will achieve real change.
I welcome the strong interest the Irish Government has shown in our work as both a frontline agency and Independent Law Centre.
As a frontline agency we had input into the National Action Plan on Human Trafficking while at lunchtime today the debate on the Sexual Offences Bill – including sex buyer laws – resumes in the Seanad – with full Government support.
Lets hope after all our efforts the laws are a reality before the General Election is called.
As you commence your high-level and legal discussions I will leave you with one very important note and that is the reminder that at the very heart of this crisis are men, women and children whose rights are being trampled over by thugs.
In the city where we are meeting there are teens being raped in brothels, there are people being trapped in servitude in some of the best heeled addresses while those behind our drugs trade are involved in what can only be called modern day slavery in cannabis farms.
Combatting this abuse – protecting the innocent and jailing the guilty – must be the focus of everything we do.
Can I wish you all a very successful day ahead.