The government decreased victim protection efforts. Authorities identified 42 suspected trafficking victims, a significant decrease compared with 64 in 2018 and 57 in 2017, and the lowest number since 2013. The government significantly decreased efforts to identify victims of forced labor and did not report identifying any Irish national victims. Of the victims identified in 2019, 34 were exploited in sex trafficking and six in labor trafficking (which included three victims of forced criminality and two victims of domestic servitude), and two were combinations of both; this compared to 27 victims of sex trafficking and 35 victims of labor trafficking in 2018. Of the 42 victims identified in 2019, 38 were female (seven of whom were children) and four were male (two of whom were children). Two victims of forced criminality were forced to work in cannabis grow houses and one was forced to sell illegal substances. During the reporting period and following a legal settlement with an NGO, the government amended its atypical working scheme for sea fishers to reduce their vulnerability to labor trafficking. The government identified zero trafficking victims in the fishing industry for 2019, compared to 23 victims in 2018. NGOs asserted that foreign national sea fishers outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) were even more at risk because the government no longer identified victims; advised victims to adjust their residency status, as they no longer qualified for residence permits as trafficking victims; and failed to enforce the amended rules. The government did not report the number of victims repatriated, compared to 15 in 2018. Border police conducted interviews with three sea fishers and 115 children at airports but did not identify any trafficking victims. Though inspectors reported conducting more than 1,500 inspections of at least 9,000 workers, including 39 joint inspections with the police, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims as part of these inspections in 2019, or in 2018, or 2017. Civil society continued to raise concerns regarding the government’s ongoing, chronic deficiencies providing assistance and protection to trafficking victims.
Experts continued to raise concerns regarding the government’s inability to identify trafficking victims due to shortcomings in its identification mechanism. While the government had national formal procedures for victim identification, they were valid only for victims lacking legal residency in Ireland, namely foreign nationals from outside the EEA who were not asylum-seekers. The formal identification scheme excluded EEA-nationals, including Irish nationals, and asylum-seekers with pending applications. As a result, the government did not formally identify such persons as suspected victims of trafficking, with implications for their access to social welfare and other specialized victim services, as reported by GRETA. According to the government, in practice, domestic and foreign victims had equal access to all state services. GRETA and NGOs, however, asserted EEA-national victims were excluded from accessing social welfare and other state support until they satisfied or were granted an exemption from the Habitual Residence Condition.
The government maintained it assessed suspected victims on a “reasonable grounds” basis to allow them access to support and services. However, NGOs and lawyers asserted the national police lacked consistent standards when assessing victims; anti-trafficking efforts varied widely throughout the country; there was no consistently used formal referral mechanism for all police units for sex trafficking victims. NGOs and other front-line responders did not have a formal role in the formal identification of victims; though police could receive victim referrals from any source, they were the only entity with the authority to formally identify victims. In its 2017 report, GRETA criticized this exclusive police authority, asserting that it created a potential conflict of priorities between law enforcement efforts and victim assistance. A formal victim statement to police and a law enforcement referral were required for potential victims to access the national referral mechanism; victims unwilling to go to the police could access emergency accommodation, counseling, medical care, and legal services from two NGOs that received government funding, but not through the referral mechanism. In 2017, the government reported plans to institute a new and revised referral mechanism; however, the government has not issued the revised mechanism. While experts welcomed ongoing government plans to develop the new mechanism, they expressed concern with the slow pace and the lack of clarity surrounding its development. Of the 42 victims police formally identified, they referred 26 to legal aid services; they did not report what services other victims received or how many were found ineligible to receive services due to Habitual Residency Condition restrictions.
Through the national referral mechanism, which was administered at government-run direct provision centers, the government 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, and the counseling services provided by NGOs were 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 potential victims referred by police, but it did not provide legal assistance or support to victims during 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 could represent them. NGOs noted instances where trafficking victims were persuaded to plead guilty to commercial sex-related charges because they did not fully understand their legal protections.
The government provided €350,000 ($393,260) to an NGO for assistance for sex trafficking victims, compared with €325,000 ($365,170) in 2018. The government also provided €84,500 ($94,940) to another NGO to assist labor trafficking victims, a significant increase compared to €50,000 ($56,180) in 2018. The government remained without dedicated shelters for victims of trafficking. Although the government provided accommodation arrangements for potential 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 all victims, but especially for female victims who had been traumatized due to psychological, physical, or sexual violence. Potential 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. While the government, including a parliamentary committee, acknowledged the lack of adequate accommodation and planned to develop alternative government-funded accommodation, officials took no concrete steps during the reporting period.
The government gave potential foreign trafficking victims temporary relief from deportation, contingent upon cooperation with an ongoing investigation. The government issued some form of immigration permission to nine victims during 2019, a significant decrease compared to 47 in 2018. The permissions were granted through a 60-day recovery and reflection period, a six-month temporary residence permission, or a two-year residence permission that allowed the holder to engage in legal employment. The government precluded victims who sought asylum from obtaining six-month renewable residence permits, which limited their access to certain benefits, such as work permits. NGOs reported the six-month periods acted as a barrier to work and that the recovery and reflection period was not uniformly granted to victims. The temporary protection could evolve into permanent residency, and residency benefits were not linked to a conviction; however, during the reporting period, the government advised several victims to apply to change their residency status, as they were no longer considered trafficking victims after the ODPP declined to pursue prosecution. The government did not provide compensation to any victims during the reporting period. The law did not provide restitution to victims for the crime of trafficking, but victims could obtain restitution for lost wages through a criminal trial, a civil suit, state bodies dealing specifically with work-related rights, and the criminal injuries compensation tribunal. In 2019, the Labor Relations Court (LRC) awarded €137,000 ($153,930) in restitution to eight trafficking victims for lost wages; however, victims infrequently received payment, as the court did not have enforcement authority, and employers would frequently close down, transfer directorship, leave the country, or claim inability to pay. NGOs criticized the lack of viable avenues for victim restitution, particularly those involved in sex trafficking and undocumented workers. Victims of sex trafficking had no verifiable expenses or employment losses, and the LRC was unavailable to undocumented workers, who could only pursue civil suits if they could prove they took all reasonable steps to rectify their irregular working status. The law protected the privacy and identity of victims in court proceedings and allowed victims to testify via video link at the discretion of the judge; this was not uniformly granted. In 2019, a judge declined to allow trafficking victims who had left the country the option to testify by video link, which resulted in case dismissal.
GRETA urged 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 is suspected of criminal activity; however, the trafficking law did not protect victims from prosecution for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. NGOs noted the process for victims to seek immunity from punishment for criminal activity as a result of trafficking was complex and required early legal representation. If authorities prosecuted an individual before they were formally identified as a trafficking victim, their criminal record could not be expunged. NGOs noted that the government continued to detain potential victims in prison for cannabis production prior to assessing whether they were victims of trafficking and urged the government to complete the identification process first. However, a police officer with specialized trafficking training accompanied teams conducting cannabis-related arrests to identify trafficking indicators and advise victims, and the Human-Trafficking Investigation and Coordination Unit continued to examine all crimes for forced criminally. The government did not report how many reviews of cannabis production cases for possible trafficking indicators police conducted, the number of victims identified, or the number of cases overturned for 2019, compared to 70 reviews in 2018 with no victims identified and no prosecutions overturned. The government reported the national police collaborated with ODPP to ensure victims were not prosecuted.