The government maintained insufficient victim protection efforts. Authorities identified 64 suspected trafficking victims, including five children, compared with 57 in 2017 and 41 in 2016; the government changed its methodology for reporting identified victims and removed non-trafficking victims from its data. Of the victims identified in 2018, 27 were exploited in sex trafficking, 35 in labor trafficking, and two in forced criminality; 33 were female and 31 were male. Victims identified in 2018 in Ireland included 14 from Romania, 10 from Egypt, nine from Nigeria, one from Ireland, and the rest from Europe, Africa, South Asia, the Near East, and South America. Thirty percent of victims were EU nationals. NGOs reported the number of victims in the fishing industry grew from 12 victims in 2017 to 23 in 2018, 16 of which the government identified as trafficking victims in 2018.
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. 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 victim services. Experts reported this practice deprived Irish and EEA nationals access to specialized assistance. According to the government, in practice, domestic and foreign victims had equal access to all state services. Experts, 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 reported receiving no complaints of refusals or evidence of cases where difficulties in satisfying the Condition arose for trafficking victims.
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 the national police lacked consistent standards 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 in 2017 created a potential conflict of priorities between law enforcement efforts and victim assistance. A formal victim statement to police and 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. The government pledged in the 2016 national action plan to review the existing mechanism, and initially reported a new mechanism would be instituted in 2017. The justice department’s anti-trafficking unit worked with various government entities to agree on a revised identification and referral mechanism, but the government still did not issue a new mechanism as planned for several years. Experts welcomed ongoing government plans to develop a new national identification and referral mechanism, but expressed concern with the slow pace of and lack of clarity surrounding the development of the mechanism and the impact gaps may have on the needs of potential victims. Of the 64 potential victims authorities identified, they referred all to services, although it was unclear how many were eligible to receive services due to Habitual Residency Condition restrictions.
Through the national referral mechanism administered at 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 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 potential 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 could represent them. The government funded an international organization to repatriate 15 victims (13 in 2017), 13 of which the government formally identified.
The government provided €325,000 ($372,710) to an NGO for assistance for sex trafficking victims, compared with €310,000 ($355,500) in 2017. The government also provided €50,000 ($57,340) to another NGO to assist labor trafficking victims, the same amount as in 2017. There were no 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. There were reports authorities removed victims from direct provision centers without any alternative accommodation in place or available. 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 reported ongoing conversations to develop alternative government-funded accommodation, which experts welcomed, but officials offered no concrete proposals.
The government gave suspected foreign trafficking victims temporary relief from deportation, depending on cooperation with an ongoing investigation. The government issued some form of immigration permission to 47 victims during 2018 (40 in 2017). The permissions were granted through a 60-day recovery and reflection period, a six-month temporary residence permission, or a two-year residence permission, which 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. The temporary protection could evolve into permanent residency, and residency benefits were not linked to a conviction. Victims could obtain compensation through a court order, civil action, state bodies dealing specifically with work-related rights, and the criminal injuries compensation tribunal. The Workplace Relations Commission awarded lost wages to six sea fisher victims of trafficking during the reporting period. 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. NGOs reported only foreign embassies provided interpretation services to non-EEA national victims of labor exploitation in the fishing industry. An NGO provided sea fishers it assessed as victims of labor trafficking with material support and assistance, as well as legal advice and representation, without public funding.
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 unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. 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. A police officer with specialized trafficking training accompanied teams conducting arrests related to cannabis cultivation crimes to identify trafficking indicators and advise victims. Police conducted 70 reviews of cannabis production cases for possible trafficking indicators and did not identify any victims or overturn any prosecutions as a result of these reviews. Law enforcement failed to identify indicators of trafficking and punished undocumented potential victims for immigration-related offenses. The government reported the national police collaborated with the office of the director of public prosecutions to ensure victims were not prosecuted. Joint inspections between labor inspectors and immigration enforcement authorities intimidated undocumented potential victims and posed a barrier to the identification of victims.