People suffering the impacts of trafficking in Ireland urgently need a National Referral Mechanism to identify them, release them from exploitation, help them deal with their trauma and convict their traffickers, according to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The IHREC is Ireland's National Rapporteur on the Trafficking of Human Beings.

The recommendation is part of a report it has published on Ireland's compliance with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

It notes "some positive progress" - including Ireland's first prosecutions for trafficking offences in June - but says trafficking victims remain unlikely to be identified, cut off from supports, and are often left open to further abuses.

The IHREC says the National Referral Mechanism, approved by Cabinet in May, needs to be progressed in this year.

The National Referral Mechanism provides a way for the State and civil society, to co-operate, share information about potential victims, identify those victims and facilitate their access to advice, accommodation and support.

When it is operational, the commission says the NRM needs to be applicable to all suspected trafficking victims regardless of their nationality and immigration status - a crucial component of the non-punishment principle that should underpin Ireland's response to human trafficking.

The Human Rights and Equality Commission warns that the accommodation of victims of trafficking needs an urgent overhaul and cannot be treated as a secondary issue in the process of winding down the system of Direct Provision.

"The delayed delivery of a specialised shelter for victims of trafficking is particularly urgent in light of all the evidence of the gender-specific nature of trafficking to Ireland," it says.

Ireland remains one of only two EU States (along with Romania) on the US State Department's Tier 2 Watch list for action on trafficking.

In July, the non-profit organisation in the Republic of Ireland that raises awareness of the presence of child trafficking activity in the country, MECPATHS launched an online e-learning platform.

It aims to educate a range of industries on how to identify and report suspicions of human trafficking, particularly child trafficking, in their sector.

It works closely with the hospitality industry and services sectors to prevent child trafficking.

Training is being provided to hotel groups and hospitality providers; industry bodies such as the Private Security Authority, airline staff and frontline professionals; as well as hospitality training colleges, universities, and private industries to raise awareness and help to protect children from exploitation.

Earlier this year, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) advised that "Ireland is not screening for victims of child trafficking".

In 2020, 38 people were identified as having been trafficked, 26 in trafficking for sexual exploitation and 12 for labour exploitation.

While none of those identified as being trafficked last year were children, in 2019 nine out of 42 were under the age of 18.

The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking will be travelling to Ireland later this year for detailed meetings on how the State is responding to the need to tackle human trafficking, and will be meeting with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.