Irish bishops and Santa Marta group warn that “human trafficking is hidden in plain sight”

A senior leadership summit on collectively combatting human trafficking was jointly hosted by An Garda Síochána and the Santa Marta Group in University College Cork recently.

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference was represented by Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Bishop of Down and Connor, who is Chair of the Commission for Social Issues and International Affairs and also Chair of the Conference’s Council for Justice and Peace; by Bishop Fintan Gavin, Bishop of Cork and Ross and by Dr Gary Carville, Executive Secretary of the Commission for Social Issues & International Affairs. Representatives of a number of Irish faith-based organisations who work in this area were also present.

The focus of the summit, on 26 and 27 June, was the prevalence of human trafficking in our midst across Ireland and elsewhere. Speakers included Helen McEntee TD, Minister for Justice, representatives of An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as well as police forces and security personnel in Britain and the USA.  The gathering received a wide range of inputs on how police forces are collaborating with each other and with various groups and organisations in society to tackle this issue through increased awareness and cooperation from the general public.  Personal testimony was received from a survivor of sexual exploitation in Ireland, and the conference also discussed cross-border sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and forced criminality.  There were calls for legislative changes and more resources to enable police act more effectively in this area.

To coincide with this event, the Irish Bishops published a statement on Human Trafficking saying, “trafficking often goes unseen. It is often said that human trafficking is hidden in plain sight.  Therefore, we have a responsibility as a society to heighten our awareness of it.  Many groups, including Catholic-based groups such as APT (Act to Prevent Trafficking), and Stella Maris Apostleship of the Sea, are already working to counter human trafficking in Ireland.  Their work involves hands-on assistance of victims and includes awareness raising in the education, healthcare and hospitality sectors, and with security services and airport staff.”

A small replica of the famous bronze sculpture Let the Oppressed Go Free by Catholic Canadian artist Timothy P Schmalz was on display during the summit in Cork. The sculpture is dedicated to trafficked victims and to all women, especially the religious sisters, who work to free women from modern day slavery.  The artwork depicts Saint Josephine Bakhita – the patron of people who have been enslaved or trafficked – herself once a slave, freeing a mass of people from underground.  The small model is identical to multiple 20-foot versions of the sculpture, outside of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Pictured with the miniature sculpture are: Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Bishop of Down & Connor and Chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Social Issues & International Affairs; HE Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Santa Marta Group, and Bishop Fintan Gavin, Bishop of Cork & Ross.

To read the full text of the Irish Bishops’ statement on Human Trafficking click here, or to find out more information on the Santa Marta group, please click here.