The government maintained insufficient victim protection efforts. Authorities identified 103 suspected trafficking victims (including four child victims), compared with 95 in 2016 and 78 in 2015. Of the victims identified in 2017, 63 were exploited in sex trafficking, 35 in labor trafficking, four in forced criminality, and one in forced begging; 68 were female and 35 were male. Victims identified in 2017 in Ireland included 28 Irish, 14 individuals from Romania, 12 from Indonesia, 12 from Nigeria, and the rest from Europe, Africa, South Asia, the Near East, and South America. Fifty percent of victims were EU nationals.
Experts raised concerns about the government’s inability to identify trafficking victims due to shortcomings in its identification mechanism. Formal procedures for victim identification applied only to victims lacking legal residency in Ireland, namely foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who were not asylum-seekers. EEA nationals, including Irish nationals, and asylum-seekers with pending applications were excluded from the formal identification scheme. As a result, such persons were not formally identified as suspected victims of trafficking, with implications for their access to victim services. Experts reported this practice deprived Irish and EEA nationals access to specialized assistance. The government maintained it assessed suspected victims on a “reasonable grounds” basis to allow them access to support and services, but NGOs and lawyers asserted national police required evidence beyond the “reasonable grounds” test when assessing victims. NGOs and other front-line responders did not have a formal role in the identification process; the police were the only entity with the authority to formally identify victims, which GRETA reported created a potential conflict of priorities between law enforcement efforts and victim assistance. The government reported reviewing the referral mechanism to identify areas for improvement, but did not issue a revised mechanism in 2017 as planned. The current national referral mechanism required potential victims give a formal statement to police to be formally identified as a suspected victim of trafficking. Law enforcement was required to refer victims before shelter and health services could be provided; victims unwilling to go to the police could not access assistance. Of the 103 victims identified by authorities, all were referred to services, although it was unclear how many were eligible to receive services due to Habitual Residency Condition restrictions.
The government’s Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) and NGOs provided victims with health services, immigration permission, accommodation, welfare and rent allowance, police assistance, residence permits, repatriation, translation and interpretation assistance, and access to education for dependent children. There was no legally-mandated psychological assistance for victims of trafficking and the counseling services provided by NGOs was insufficient. NGOs reported a lack of specialized services to address the physical and mental health needs of victims. The government’s legal aid board provided information to victims referred by police, but not legal assistance or support for investigations or trials. One government-funded NGO provided legal representation for victims. GRETA urged the government to ensure victims had early access to legal practitioners with specialized knowledge of trafficking who can represent them. The government-funded an NGO to repatriate one Irish and 12 foreign victims.
According to the government, in practice, domestic and foreign victims had equal access to all state services. Experts, however, asserted EEA foreign national victims were excluded from accessing social assistance support until they satisfied or were granted an exemption from the Habitual Residence Condition. The government reported receiving no complaints of refusals or evidence of cases where difficulties in satisfying the Condition arose for trafficking victims. There were no dedicated shelters for presumed victims of trafficking. Although the government provided accommodation arrangements for victims, NGOs stated the mixed-gender housing in the direct provision system, a system originally established to provide services for asylum-seekers, had inadequate privacy, was unsuitable and potentially unsafe for traumatized victims, could expose them to greater exploitation, and undermined victim recovery. Experts also noted a lack of specialized services in the centers for female victims who had been traumatized due to psychological, physical, or sexual violence. Suspected victims who were in the asylum process remained in direct provision accommodation while a determination was being made in relation to their claim for international protection, which could continue for years.
The government provided €310,000 ($372,150) to an NGO for assistance for sex trafficking victims, compared with €275,000 ($330,130) in 2016. The government also provided €50,000 ($60,020) to another NGO to assist labor trafficking victims, compared with €41,400 ($49,700) in 2016. The government also provided €76,400 ($91,720), to three NGOs for awareness and victim support projects for vulnerable populations, compared to €200,000 ($240,100) in 2016.
The government gave suspected foreign trafficking victims temporary relief from deportation, depending on cooperation with an ongoing investigation. Four victims were granted a six-month temporary residence permit. The temporary protection could evolve into permanent residency, and residency benefits were not linked to a conviction. Victims could theoretically obtain compensation through a court order, civil action, state bodies dealing specifically with work-related rights, and the criminal injuries compensation tribunal. No victims had ever received compensation through any of these means. NGOs criticized the lack of viable avenues for victim compensation, particularly those involved in sex trafficking since they would not have verifiable expenses or employment losses.
GRETA urged the adoption of a specific legal provision on the non-punishment of victims of trafficking in both its 2013 and 2017 reports, and, in 2015, the Irish high court found a need for protocols or legislation that dictate what happens when a victim was suspected of criminal activity; however, the trafficking law did not protect victims from prosecution for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. NGOs noted the process for victims to seek immunity from punishment for criminal activity as a result of their trafficking was complex and required early legal representation. If authorities prosecuted an individual before he or she was formally identified as a trafficking victim, the criminal record could not be expunged. Bench warrants were issued for two victims, including one who had been referred to services. The national police previously revised their protocols and increased regional training on identifying trafficking in cannabis cultivation; the police included a human trafficking specialist in teams conducting these arrests. Police continued pre-trial reviews of three cases for possible trafficking indicators related to arrests and pre-trial detention in cannabis production; the government did not identify any victims or overturn any prosecutions as a result of approximately 70 reviews. In May 2017, the national police arrested and detained two Vietnamese males in one case for cannabis cultivation without a license. Media reports indicated one of the men was smuggled in a shipping container, had his passport confiscated upon arrival, and felt he could not leave the marijuana grow house. While undergoing a trafficking investigation, prosecutors charged these individuals and they pled guilty. While keeping the men in detention, the judge postponed their sentencing to await the result of the trafficking investigation, noting the case demonstrated a level of coercion and acknowledging the men were preyed upon. In April 2018, the courts found they were not victims and sentenced them to two and a half years in prison. NGOs maintained that in certain cases, law enforcement failed to identify indicators of trafficking and undocumented potential victims were punished for immigration-related offenses. Joint inspections between labor inspectors and immigration authorities intimidated undocumented potential victims and posed a barrier to the identification of victims.