The grim reality of human trafficking and prostitution was brought close to home this week as Gardai raided a suspected brothel in Athlone in an effort to crush an international human trafficking gang.
The Athlone premises was among nine locations nationwide targeted by Gardai on Wednesday in a major crackdown on human trafficking.
A total of 10 people were arrested following the raids on the brothels in Athlone, Mullingar, Cavan, Drogheda, Sligo, Kilkenny, Enniscorthy, Newbridge, and Waterford.
Following the release yesterday of five of those who were being held, one individual remains in custody at Tullamore Garda station, and another at Carlow Garda station. Of the 10 people arrested yesterday, four women and three men, aged in their 20s to early 50s, were arrested in the Republic on suspicion of organising and managing prostitution.
However Gardai could not confirm in which towns the arrests had been made, nor the location of the raided premises in Athlone, although it is thought the suspected brothel was in the Golden Island area.
Six locations in the Carlow area were also searched by Gardai, including the offices and homes of several professionals. Computer equipment and documentation was also seized.
A further three people were arrested outside of the Republic on Wednesday in connection with the raids. A man was arrested by the PSNI in Co Down, while a 47-year-old Irishman and a 31-year-old South African woman were detained by police in Wales.
There was speculation yesterday that the Irishman arrested in Wales is from Carlow and was at the centre of the internet-based prostitution ring. Described as “one of the key figures in Ireland’s sex industry”, there were reports that he, his South African girlfriend, his ex-wife, and his son and daughter were among those being questioned, and that he had been directing the cross-border network of prostitutes from a call centre in Wales and through a number of websites.
The nationwide searches were prompted by a UK enquiry into human trafficking code named Operation Pentameter 2, and were carried out as part of an international investigation into the activities of an organised crime gang suspected of trafficking young women from Eastern Europe, Latin American, and Africa and forcing them into prostitution.
Irish Gardai cooperated with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI ), Welsh Police, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and the United Kingdom Border Agency.
Fine Gael’s Immigration and Integration spokesperson and local TD Denis Naughten commended the initiative which led to the raids, but warned that support services for the victims of human trafficking are still inadequate.
“As things stand, victims of human trafficking have almost no entitlement to support from the State, let alone legal protection. Although some supports have been made available on an informal basis between the Department of Justice and the Gardaí, the statutory rights of these victims are almost zero. There is a very real danger that in some circumstances the victims themselves will be treated as criminals,” said Deputy Naughten.
“The new Criminal Law (Human Trafficking ) Act which was passed by the Dáil earlier this year will make it easier for Gardaí to prosecute criminals engaged in trafficking people to and from Ireland...However, unless victims feel confident enough to talk to the authorities, it will be very hard to secure convictions against those directly involved in this modern day slave-trade.”