The government maintained inadequate victim protection efforts. Authorities identified 38 trafficking victims, a small decrease compared with 42 in 2019; however, 2020 was the fourth consecutive year of decreasing victim identification and the fewest victims identified since 2013. Of the 38 victims, 26 were exploited in sex trafficking and 12 in labor trafficking (which included two victims of forced criminality), compared with 34 victims of sex trafficking and six victims of labor trafficking identified in 2019. Of the 38 victims identified in 2020, all were adults, 33 were female and five were male. Unlike 2019, when the government identified nine child trafficking victims, the government did not identify any children as victims in 2020. This may have been due to the ODPP’s 2018 decision to reclassify child trafficking victims as victims of sexual exploitation, which consequently excluded children from trafficking statistics. While the government increased efforts to identify victims of forced labor, it again did not report identifying any victims who were Irish nationals. However, some experts raised concerns that the number of victims formally identified by police did not represent the true scale of trafficking in Ireland, as many victims remained unidentified. An independent and comprehensive 2021 study found that from 2014-2019, victim identification statistics were approximately 38 percent higher than the official national statistics. Since the government amended its atypical working scheme for sea fishers in 2019, it has identified zero trafficking victims in the fishing industry, compared to 23 victims in 2018. Some experts also continued to raise serious concerns and asserted that foreign national sea fishers outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) were at even greater risk following the amendment of the scheme because the government failed to enforce the amended rules of the scheme, no longer identified victims, and had begun revoking the status and associated protections against previously identified trafficking victims within this sector. A government-funded international organization repatriated five trafficking victims in 2020, compared to none reported for 2019 and 15 in 2018. Although labor inspectors reported conducting 7,687 inspections, including one joint inspection with the police in 2020, the government has not reported identifying any trafficking victims as part of these inspections since 2017.
Experts continued to raise concerns regarding the government’s inability to identify trafficking victims due to shortcomings in its identification mechanism and limiting identification of victims solely to police. 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 in 2017. The government reported that, in practice, domestic and foreign victims had equal access to all state services. GRETA and NGOs, however, asserted EEA-national victims could be excluded from accessing general social welfare, housing support payments, and other state support until they satisfied or were granted an exemption from the Habitual Residence Condition, which some victims may not have been able to satisfy because of an inability to prove a documented work history. The government maintained it assessed suspected victims on a “reasonable grounds” basis to allow them access to support and services; victims that cooperated with law enforcement were often referred to services, but referral was not systematic throughout the country. A 2021 academic study concluded the government did not have a formal victim identification process due to a lack of specific criteria for “reasonable grounds” decisions. NGOs and lawyers asserted the national police lacked consistent standards when assessing victims; anti-trafficking efforts varied widely from urban to rural areas; and 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 identification of victims, although police could receive victim referrals from any source. In its 2017 report, GRETA criticized the exclusive police authority to identify victims, asserting 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 NGOs that received government funding, but not through the referral mechanism. Victims who did not cooperate with law enforcement did not have access to statutory care or the sexual health screenings available to victims that did cooperate. In 2017, the government reported plans to institute a new and revised referral mechanism; however, the government has not yet issued the revised mechanism. While experts welcomed ongoing government plans to develop the new mechanism, they expressed concern with the slow pace and lack of clarity surrounding its development. The government continued to have incomplete data on victims provided with assistance. Of the 38 victims police formally identified in 2020, they referred 36 to some or all of the services available to victims under the national referral mechanism, including medical care, housing, social workers, legal aid services, and various trafficking NGOs, but the government did not report how many victims utilized these services.
The government provided €453,000 ($555,830) to NGOs for victim assistance, including both sex and labor trafficking, an increase compared with €338,450 ($415,280) in 2019. However, due to the pandemic, the caseworkers for trafficking victims within the Health Services Executive (HSE), were seconded to COVID-19 contact tracing roles; subsequently, case management of trafficking victims and referral to services may have been diminished. Further, civil society continued to raise concerns regarding the government’s ongoing, chronic deficiencies providing assistance and protection to trafficking victims. Through the national referral mechanism, which was administered at government-run direct provision centers, the government provided victims with voluntary access to 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. While there were no dedicated services or accommodations for child trafficking victims, children were usually placed in children’s residential centers or in approved foster care and had access to social workers. In 2020, the government hired one psychologist for the anti-human trafficking team at the HSE that specialized in trauma care. However, there was no legally mandated psychological assistance for victims, and NGOs continued to report a lack of specialized services to address the physical and mental health needs of victims. According to experts, the lack of clear rights and legal protections for victims often required NGOs to use the legal system to ensure victims’ rights were protected, which only benefited a limited number of victims. Further, access to legal services was limited, as resources were insufficient for demand and delays in application processing resulted in some victims becoming undocumented, limiting their access to care and assistance. Services available from the government’s Legal Aid Board were inadequate for victims’ needs, as the board only provided information to potential victims referred by police but did not provide legal assistance or support to victims during investigations or trials. Only one government-funded NGO provided legal representation for labor trafficking victims in 2020. GRETA urged the government to ensure victims had early access to legal practitioners with specialized knowledge of trafficking who could represent them.
The government provided accommodation arrangements for victims and potential victims through its direct provision system, which housed asylum-seekers, refugees, and trafficking victims in centers and temporary accommodation facilities across the country. Victims were not required to stay in the direct provision accommodation provided by the government, though the government did not offer dedicated shelters for victims of trafficking. NGOs stated the mixed-gender housing in the direct provision system 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. Experts noted that accommodation in direct provision was inappropriate and unacceptable for emergency or long-term stays. NGOs raised concerns that the placement of trafficking victims in direct provision accommodation isolated victims from other available services and exposed them to re-trafficking and re-traumatization. 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. Accommodations in the direct provision system were particularly strained in 2020, due to a housing shortage, increased demand on the system, and decreased housing capacity to ensure compliance with social distancing requirements due to the pandemic. While the government, including a parliamentary committee, an Advisory Group, and Ireland’s Ombudsman, acknowledged the lack of adequate accommodation for several years and announced plans to phase out the direct provision system by 2024, officials took no concrete steps to do so during the reporting period.
The government could give potential foreign trafficking victims temporary relief from deportation, contingent upon cooperation with an ongoing investigation. The government also had legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship. The government issued some form of immigration permissions, including renewals, to 81 trafficking victims in 2020, compared with nine in 2019 and 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. Trafficking victims could not work for the first 60 days. 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. To respond to the pandemic, the government allowed applicants for international protection to apply for work permits after six months, as opposed to nine months, and doubled the time for which permits were valid. However, 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.
The government did not provide compensation to victims of trafficking. The law did not require prosecutors to request restitution for victims for the crime of trafficking, though courts could order restitution for victims and victims could also 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. Some NGOs reported victims infrequently received payment in the past, as the court did not have enforcement authority and employers would frequently close down, transfer directorship, leave the country, or claim inability to pay. The Minister of Justice could decide to order restitution for unpaid labor of foreign trafficking victims, but the minister never utilized this authority. NGOs criticized the lack of viable avenues for victim restitution, particularly of cases that involved sex trafficking and undocumented workers. Victims of sex trafficking had no verifiable expenses or employment losses, and the labour relations committee 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; however, this was not always uniformly granted, and NGOs were concerned that victims were not always informed of these protections. The government had a witness protection program but did not report how many trafficking victims were provided this service during the reporting period.
Additionally, the government remained without a specific legal provision on the non-punishment of victims of trafficking and GRETA urged adoption of such a provision in both its 2013 and 2017 reports. Further, in 2015, the Irish high court found a need for protocols or legislation to dictate what happens when a victim is suspected of criminal activity; however, the government took no action to rectify this gap and the existing trafficking law did not include a provision to protect victims from prosecution for crimes their trafficker compelled them to commit. However, in practice, prosecutors sought to avoid victim prosecution and utilized internal guidelines that instructed prosecutors to consider the public interest and mitigating factors, such as coercion, when deciding whether to charge an individual with a crime. The government reported the national police also collaborated with ODPP to ensure victims were not prosecuted, but that decision rested entirely with the ODPP and was not subject to scrutiny. 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 historically detained 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. 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 or 2020; compared with 70 reviews in 2018 with no victims identified and no prosecutions overturned.