The government slightly increased victim protection efforts compared with the previous year; however, systemic deficiencies in victim identification, referral, and assistance continued. The police identified 18 trafficking victims, while other government departments or government- funded NGOs initially identified and referred 26 victims to police for formal identification, resulting in a total of 44 victims identified, compared with 38 identified in 2020 and 42 in 2019. Of the 44 victims, 25 were exploited in sex trafficking and 19 in labor trafficking; all victims were adults; 28 were female, and 16 were male. Of the 44 victims identified, 43 were foreign nationals and were predominantly from Nigeria (17), Slovakia (6), Ghana (5), and Egypt (3). Some gaps in victim identification remained, and similar to 2020, the government did not identify any child trafficking victims; but unlike prior years, the government identified one Irish sex trafficking victim and four trafficking victims among asylum- seekers. While every formally identified trafficking victim had access to the government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM), only 33 of the identified victims entered the NRM to receive assistance and care, and of these victims, 17 were referred to legal aid; however, the government did not report how many victims accessed other available services under the NRM. The government reported screening 130 children for trafficking indicators with a child sexual exploitation victim identification tool, which included referral protocols, but it did not identify any child victims in 2021. The ODPP’s 2018 decision to reclassify child trafficking victims as victims of sexual exploitation consequently excluded children from trafficking statistics. The media reported that the national rapporteur, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, highlighted the lack of identified children could also be a result of insufficient expertise among social workers regarding the identification of child trafficking victims. Some experts raised concerns that the number of victims formally identified by police did not represent the true scale of trafficking in Ireland, and many unidentified victims faced penalization or deportation. The government funded a comprehensive 2021 study that concluded the probable number of trafficking victims was likely to be 38 percent higher than the official national statistics from 2014-2019.
While gaps and serious concerns remained, the government made some progress providing assistance to sea fishers—workers in the Irish fishing industry—during the reporting period. The government had not recognized any sea fishers as trafficking victims since 2018; however, in 2021, the government resumed identification and formally recognized seven victims of human trafficking in the fishing industry. The seven sea fisher trafficking victims, from Egypt and Ghana, were either self-identified or referred by NGOs to police for formal victim identification; all seven were offered victim assistance through the NRM, but only three accepted. In 2021, four Ghanian sea fishers decided to leave government-provided accommodation in Ireland and cooperate with UK law enforcement, which resulted in the arrest of the alleged trafficker in the UK. This alleged trafficker reportedly kept the victims’ identification documents in Ireland at a seafood processing facility owned by another alleged trafficker, whose case was dismissed by Irish courts in 2021, in part due to the government’s failure to inform the four victims of their opportunity to testify, as reported by the media. Although the government identified 23 victims (36 percent of the total victims identified) among sea fishers in 2018, following the government’s 2019 amendment to its atypical working scheme (AWS) for sea fishers, it did not identify any victims in the fishing sector in 2019 or 2020. Civil society raised serious concerns regarding the absence of any identified victims for several years in an industry inherently vulnerable to forced labor. Civil society asserted foreign national sea fishers, especially those from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), were at even greater risk following the 2019 amendment of the scheme because the government failed to enforce the amended rules, stopped identifying victims for several years, and had revoked the status and associated protections against previously identified trafficking victims within this sector. However, failure to uniformly screen all trafficking victims—before referring them to immigration authorities for deportation—persisted, and in May 2021, the police declined to interview an undocumented sea fisher and self-identified trafficking victim, who had reportedly recorded the trafficker confessing, and instead referred the case to immigration authorities. In 2021, government officials raised concerns the workplace relations commission (WRC) did not sufficiently understand its role in identifying trafficking victims or have adequate trafficking training, and the separation between immigration, labor, and trafficking enforcement was unclear to all officials. An NGO reported that WRC had insufficient personnel and training.
In 2021, a university published a report, which featured in-depth interviews with 24 male non-EEA sea fishers in the Irish fishing industry, some of whom were undocumented. The report concluded that labor exploitation was still prevalent in the Irish fishing industry and that the overall conditions in the sector had worsened since the implementation of the AWS in 2016, echoing the conclusions of another NGO report published in 2017. More than half of the participants interviewed said that they had been subjected to verbal and racial abuse, and less than half recalled boats being inspected by the WRC or other authorities asking about work-related issues. Several descriptions from the 24 interviewed sea fishers could meet the threshold for trafficking, including the use of fraudulent recruitment and non-violent psychological coercion via threats of permit revocation and subsequent deportation, which coerced sea fishers into less pay, longer hours, more dangerous situations, and the endurance of racial and verbal abuse, as well as several instances of forced criminal activity by coercing sea fishers to hide fish, in contravention of quota regulations. Fear of reprisal and permit revocation, as well as language barriers, were obstacles for victims to engage with inspectors. The report made a number of recommendations, including revising the model contracts, de-coupling work permits from individual employers to eliminate the use of permits to control the labor of sea fishers, and increasing the use of professional interpreters for private interviews with sea fishers away from their employers.
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. GRETA reported in 2017 that, as a result, the government did not formally identify such persons as suspected trafficking victims, with negative implications for their access to social welfare and other specialized victim services. However, despite gaps in the NRM, in 2021, the government reported identifying four trafficking victims in the asylum system; victims were referred either by a government-funded NGO or Health Services Executive (HSE) or through government offices responsible for reviewing asylum applications and government-funded accommodations. 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. Experts echoed GRETA’s criticism and urged the government to allow formal victim identification by entities other than the police, including civil society, labor inspectors, social workers, and health care professionals.
The government provided €689,938 ($782,240) to NGOs for victim assistance and legal services, including both sex and labor trafficking, a significant increase compared with €452,988 ($513,590) in 2020. The government required a formal victim statement to police and a law enforcement referral for potential victims to access the NRM; 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. Through the NRM, which was administered at government-run assistance centers (direct provision centers), the government provided victims with voluntary access to legal aid service, direct provision accommodation (government-funded accommodation), welfare and rent allowance, police assistance, repatriation, translation and interpretation assistance, education for dependent children, a recovery and reflection period, temporary residence permits, and medical care, including individual care plans by HSE within three days of referral. 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 NRM and reaffirmed and approved those plans in 2021, which reportedly included proposals to expand formal victim identification by and referral from entities other than the police, including social workers, health care professionals, and partner NGOs, as well as allow all victims to access the NRM without requiring cooperation with law enforcement. However, the government reported that the adoption of a revised NRM would require a legislative change, and the revision remained pending. While experts welcomed ongoing government plans to develop the new NRM, they expressed concern with the slow pace and lack of clarity surrounding its development.
Due to the pandemic, the caseworkers for trafficking victims within HSE, were seconded to COVID-19 contact tracing roles until October 2021; subsequently, case management of trafficking victims and referral to services may have been diminished. Furthermore, civil society continued to raise concerns regarding the government’s ongoing, chronic deficiencies in providing assistance and protection to trafficking victims. 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 and one psychologist from the anti-trafficking team at the HSE. 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. Access to legal services was limited, as resources were insufficient for demand and delays in application processing resulted in some victims becoming undocumented, thereby reducing 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. Two government-funded NGOs provided legal representation for labor trafficking victims in 2021. GRETA and NGOs urged the government to ensure victims had early access to legal practitioners with specialized knowledge of trafficking who could represent them.
The government did not offer trafficking-specific shelter or services for trafficking victims. However, the government provided accommodation arrangements for victims and potential victims through the government- funded 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, originally established for asylum-seekers, although the government did not otherwise 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. For several years, the government, including a parliamentary committee, an Advisory Group, and Ireland’s Ombudsman acknowledged the lack of adequate accommodation.
In February 2021, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth published a white paper with plans to overhaul and phase out the direct provision system by 2024 and replace it with a victim-centered accommodation and social support system called the International Protection System. The 2021 implementation of the plan included the appointment of a transition team and an external advisory group, as well as the establishment of oversight structures, initiative planning processes for projects, building capacity for NGOs to provide services, interagency working groups, and a computer system for bed management. In 2020, the government announced plans to open an accommodation center for 8-10 female trafficking victims, but the shelter remained non-operational during the reporting period. Other than the appointment of the transition team, the government did not report taking any further actions to effectively address inadequate shelter; the original direct provision accommodation framework remained in effect.
The government could give potential foreign trafficking victims temporary relief from deportation by issuing temporary residence permits, contingent upon cooperation with an ongoing investigation; permits could be extended by police request to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The government also provided legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship. Immigration 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 issued some form of immigration permission, including renewals, to 57 trafficking victims in 2021. However, trafficking victims could not work for the first 60 days during their recovery and reflection period. NGOs reported the six-month work permits acted as a barrier to work because of the government’s slow renewal rate and the recovery and reflection period was not uniformly granted to victims. The temporary residence permission could evolve into permanent residency, and residency benefits were not linked to a conviction. 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 state compensation to victims of trafficking, as there was no mechanism to do so. The law did not require prosecutors to systematically request restitution for victims for trafficking crimes, though courts could order restitution for victims, and victims could also obtain restitution and damages for lost wages through a criminal trial, a civil suit, state bodies dealing specifically with work- related rights, and the criminal injuries compensation tribunal. The media reported that in November 2021, the WRC awarded €20,000 ($22,680) in backpay to one sea fisher. However, in another 2021 case, the media reported four sea fishers, who were potential trafficking victims, did not receive back wages because the WRC failed to complete its investigation prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, did not inform the victims, and the sea fishers received no restitution. The victims of the two convicted traffickers in 2021 applied to the criminal injuries compensation tribunal, but the government did not report making a decision regarding their compensation applications or whether prosecutors requested restitution during the trial. Historically, the government did not award restitution to victims for the crime of human trafficking, only for lost wages. 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. However, NGOs stated that no case like this has previously been brought before the courts and that high legal costs often functioned as a deterrent to victims. Officials also noted that because there was no viable avenue for undocumented workers to recover wages, this could have incentivized employers to exploit workers and may have increased their vulnerability to trafficking.
In 2021, DOJ announced plans to improve its victim-centered approach with its ‘Supporting a Victim’s Journey,’ program and secured €2.3 million ($2.61 million) in the 2021 budget to fund the reforms for all victims, including trafficking victims. The program would include legal aid for victims, ensure victims understood their rights, improve interagency coordination and services to victims, and train officials; however, the government did not report any impacts specifically for trafficking victims as a result of the program. 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.
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. Furthermore, 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 unlawful acts traffickers 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. In recognition of this issue and in an effort to avoid victim penalization, in April 2021, the DOJ expunged 607 prior convictions for commercial sex offenses; many of the convicted individuals may have been sex trafficking victims. NGOs continued to report instances of potential victims detained in prison for cannabis production prior to assessing whether they were trafficking victims and urged the government to complete the identification process first. The media reported that in 2021, two Albanian trafficking victims were released from prison after their arrest at a cannabis factory in 2020; the two victims had pled guilty to drug-related charges and remained in prison until the government identified them as labor trafficking victims.