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READ: TIP Report 2021 Review of Ireland

The US Department of State issued their annual trafficking in persons report yesterday and determined that Ireland would remain on the tier two watchlist for the second year in a row.

Read the report in full below:

The Government of Ireland does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included designating an independent human trafficking national rapporteur and establishing a formal national anti-trafficking forum composed of interagency and civil society stakeholders. In coordination with an international organization, the government launched a national anti-trafficking public awareness campaign. The government also increased funding for victim assistance, antitrafficking public awareness campaigns, and training. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its antitrafficking capacity. While courts convicted one trafficker under false imprisonment charges, the government has not obtained a trafficking conviction under the anti-trafficking law since it was amended in 2013, which weakened deterrence, contributed to impunity for traffickers, and undermined efforts to support victims to testify. The government investigated and prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers, did not prosecute any labor traffickers, and victim identification decreased for the fourth year in a row. The government continued to have systemic deficiencies in victim identification, referral, and assistance, and lacked specialized accommodation and adequate services for victims. Therefore Ireland remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year


  • Vigorously investigate, prosecute suspects, and convict traffickers of both sex and labor trafficking using the trafficking law.

  • Continue to systematically train law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to law enforcement efforts and trials and sensitize judges to the severity of trafficking crimes.

  • Update and adopt a national anti-trafficking action plan with a clear timeline for implementation, responsible ministries, and resources for implementation.

  • Improve victim identification and referral and issue a revised referral mechanism in coordination with NGOs, offering formal identification, a recovery and reflection period, and services to all victims.

  • Allow formal victim identification by and referral from entities other than the police, including civil society, social workers, and healthcare professionals.

  • Allow all victims to access the national referral mechanism without requiring cooperation with law enforcement.

  • Increase efforts to identify and protect all victims, especially of labor trafficking and forced criminality.

  • Continue to train law enforcement and prosecutors on developing cases with evidence to corroborate victim testimony.

  • Adopt a legal provision to exempt victims from penalization for the unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.

  • Offer specialized accommodations to trafficking victims that are safe, appropriate, and trauma informed.

  • Continue to enforce the amended rules for the working scheme for sea fishers to reduce their risk of labor trafficking.

  • Increase resources for legal assistance to trafficking victims as well as the legal services provided, including assistance to victims through investigations and court proceedings, which can be accessed at the earliest opportunity and prior to engaging with police.

  • Establish a national hotline to report trafficking crimes and provide victim assistance and referral.

  • Increase efforts to order restitution for victims, particularly for undocumented workers or victims of sex trafficking.

  • Continue to increase coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors through regular case conferencing and consider prosecution-assisted investigations on trafficking cases.

  • Prioritize investigating fraudulent labor recruitment and labor trafficking, and prosecute these crimes as trafficking rather than labor code violations.

  • Expand government authorities to ensure the effective regulation and monitoring of agencies that recruited domestic workers and au pairs.


The government maintained inadequate law enforcement efforts. The 2008 Human Trafficking Act, amended in 2013, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties up to life imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law broadly defined sexual exploitation to include the sexual abuse of children. The Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Act of 2017 criminalized the purchase of sexual services and prescribed more severe penalties for the purchase of sex from a person subjected to trafficking. In such cases, the burden of proof shifted to the accused, who had to prove they were unaware the victim was exploited in trafficking. The national police anti-trafficking unit reported investigating 22 suspects in 2020 (15 for sex trafficking and seven for labor trafficking), compared with 39 investigations in 2019. Courts were shut down for 16 weeks in 2020 due to the pandemic, which postponed the vast majority of jury trials, a requirement for human trafficking cases, to 2021. Despite this, the government initiated prosecutions for three sex trafficking suspects (compared with five in 2019, zero in 2018, and three in 2017). The government did not initiate any prosecutions for labor trafficking in 2020. For the seventh year in a row, the government did not convict any traffickers under the anti-trafficking law, as amended in 2013, although the government has reported identifying 508 victims since 2013. However, in 2020, courts convicted one trafficker under another law after he pled guilty to false imprisonment; he had yet to be sentenced at the end of the reporting period. In its 2017 report, GRETA expressed concern about the inadequate criminal justice response in Ireland, noting the failure to convict traffickers and the absence of effective sentences could contribute to impunity and undermine efforts to support victims to testify.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) had a specialized team responsible for prosecuting trafficking crimes. However, the government did not have specialized judges or courts that could hear trafficking cases, and judges often had little understanding of trafficking crimes or familiarity with the effects of trauma on trafficking victims. Civil society continued to express concern regarding the lack of judicial training. NGOs recommended training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and the judiciary regarding the complexities of commercial sex and sex trafficking, as well as nonpunishment of trafficking victims. In February 2021, the government established a new specialized police unit, which focused primarily on vulnerable populations within the commercial sex industry and its links to organized crime, and included identifying trafficking victims as an area of priority. During the reporting period, the government and a governmentfunded NGO trained two officials from the criminal justice police unit, as well as other justice department officials and members of the legal aid board, but the government noted it was unable to train any police recruits due to pandemic-related restrictions. The government did not report how many officials received training in total, compared with 1,699 officials trained in 2019. The government reported that coordination between law enforcement and the ODPP improved during the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking. In 2020, law enforcement cooperated in an international investigation with the United Kingdom (UK), which resulted in the identification of five trafficking victims in the UK and Ireland. The government continued to coordinate with INTERPOL, including information and intelligence sharing. In 2020, the government received 19 European arrest warrants for suspected human traffickers and arrested nine suspects from warrants issued by Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and the UK. The government also extradited three suspects—one to France and two to the UK.


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, IRELAND 304 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 retrafficking 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. I


The government increased prevention efforts. The justice ministry’s criminal justice policy unit functioned as the national coordinating body and was responsible for coordinating interagency efforts, raising awareness, providing funding to anti-trafficking civil society organizations, collecting data, and publishing an annual trafficking report. In 2020, the policy unit established a formal national anti-trafficking forum, composed of interagency and civil society stakeholders; the forum met twice during the reporting period and focused one meeting on the creation of a role that would bridge gaps between police and victims to improve evidence collection. In October 2020, the government appointed the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission as the independent national rapporteur; it was responsible for monitoring human trafficking policy and data collection. It was uncertain whether the government followed its national antitrafficking action plan; the plan, adopted in 2016, had no end date, timeframe, budget allocation, or indication of agencies responsible for its implementation. NGOs described the national action plan as outdated; the new anti-trafficking committee stated its intention to draft an updated plan. The government continued extensive efforts to raise awareness of trafficking by funding and launching a new national human trafficking public awareness campaign, in partnership with an international organization, and by maintaining a website, updated in 2020, that provided information on human trafficking and encouraged the public to report possible cases of trafficking to authorities. In 2020, the government provided €137,700 ($168,960) to NGOs for anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns and the development of training material for frontline officials, specifically targeting labor trafficking and vulnerable populations, an increase compared to 2019. The government funded several studies into human trafficking and the efficacy of its laws in 2020, one of which found the government undercounted victims by 38 percent. Labor recruitment and employment agencies were required to have a license, and passport withholding was illegal. The government did not report investigating or prosecuting any labor recruitment agencies for fraudulent labor recruitment or labor trafficking. The workplace relations commission (WRC) provided information on employment rights to approximately 52,566 callers (54,748 in 2019) and replied to 6,895 emails from the public in 2020. The WRC did not have the authority to regulate agencies that recruited au pairs, who were allowed to work up to 20 hours per week without the need for a work permit. NGOs reported employers regularly paid au pairs less than minimum wage and forced them to work more than the maximum of 20 hours of work per week, creating vulnerability to labor trafficking; however the government did not report any steps taken to address this during the reporting period. Further, an NGO also raised concerns regarding the lack of jurisdiction for WRC inspectors to address violations regarding the number of hours worked on fishing vessels. The WRC reported conducting 7,687 labor inspections in 2020, 5,202 of which were unannounced—an increase compared with 4,800 in 2019; however, it did not report identifying any trafficking victims through the inspections. Of the 171 vessels under the scope of the amended atypical working scheme, in 2020, the WRC conducted 31 desktop inspections and two onboard inspections, identifying zero trafficking victims. While no trafficking victims were identified, WRC inspectors found 36 violations of employment rights or employment permits pertaining to 19 vessels and referred three violations for prosecution. While the WRC prosecuted several employers for these employment-related offenses, it did not report law enforcement actions against any companies for labor trafficking in 2020. In an effort to address vulnerabilities created by the pandemic when migrant workers became unable to travel or physically apply to extend their immigration status, the government permitted those that became undocumented to access unemployment payments and ensured officials did not report undocumented workers to immigration authorities. The government prohibited convicted human traffickers from being selected for public contracts. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by providing €96,050 ($117,850) for research and awareness raising projects in relation to the criminalization of the purchase of sex and the inherent exploitation involved, the same amount as in 2019. The government continued to provide funding to several anti-trafficking programs abroad. The government did not fund the operation of a dedicated trafficking national hotline but promoted a general crime hotline for anonymously notifying police about various crime incidents; police officers staffed the hotline, which was available for 12 hours daily. The government did not report the number of calls received for trafficking-related cases during the reporting period. The national police had a dedicated email address for reports of trafficking and received 33 emails in 2020, compared with 67 in 2019.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Ireland, and traffickers exploit victims from Ireland abroad. Traffickers subject Irish children to sex trafficking within the country. The prevalence of human trafficking in Ireland is likely much higher than official statistics report, and an independent and comprehensive 2021 study found that from 2014-2019, the true number of trafficking victims was approximately 38 percent higher than the official national statistics. Foreign trafficking victims identified in Ireland are from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America. In recent years, authorities and media have reported an increase in suspected victims from Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Romania. Traffickers exploit victims of forced labor in domestic work, the restaurant industry, cannabis cultivation, nail salons, food processing, waste management, fishing, seasonal agriculture, and car washing services. Undocumented workers in the fishing industry and domestic workers, particularly au pairs, are vulnerable to trafficking. Migrant workers from Egypt and the Philippines are vulnerable to forced labor on fishing vessels. Women from Eastern Europe who are forced into marriage in Ireland are at risk for sex trafficking and forced labor.

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