Country Profile: Ireland

Republic of Ireland

U.S. State Department Trafficking-in-Persons Report Status: Tier II

When the vast majority of people picture Ireland, the first things that might flash in their minds may images of jovial leprechauns, rolling green fields, ancient castle ruins, small village pubs, and the quintessential pint of Guinness. In truth, this island with a population of nearly four and a half million people has become home to a far more sinister – and rapidly growing – tradition: slavery.

Primarily a trafficking destination country, Ireland sees victims of all ages, men and women, brought to its shores for purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. In recent years, with the addition of Eastern European countries into the European Union and the dismantling of previously existing strong political and customs borders, Ireland has seen a flood of migrants in search of better opportunities and gainful employment. That flood has unfortunately seen a massive exploitation of the EU’s borderless world, with traffickers bringing slaves in from the former Soviet Union republics, Sub-Saharan Africa, East and Southeast Asia, and South America for sexual exploitation; and victims from the Middle East, Maghreb region of North Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh mostly for slave labor in farms and restaurants.

The State Department’s annual Trafficking-in-Persons Report in 2009 placed Ireland on Tier II status, citing the Irish Government’s incompliance with “the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking…[While] the government enacted legislation criminalizing human trafficking, there was no evidence that trafficking offenders were prosecuted or convicted during the (2009) reporting period.” The TIP report also brings to light the fact that nearly 400 unaccompanied immigrant children have simply vanished from state care. “While Irish authorities believe the majority of these children have been reunited with family members, the government reported that a small number of the missing children have been found in involuntary servitude in brothels, restaurants, and in domestic service.”

It should be noted that the TIP Country Report shows that the Irish Government has been in the process of making strong efforts to tackle the issue of trafficking. In addition to the enacted legislation to criminalize trafficking, it has been active in raising awareness campaigns, and has launched investigations into approximately 100 cases of potential trafficking. More robust measures are required, however – large investigations are great government PR, but arrests and convictions of traffickers, and the return of freedom and basic human rights to their victims is ultimately the only way to slow this growing trend.

On a more personal note, it came as no surprise to me to find that Ireland has a trafficking problem. A number of news reports through the Irish media have caught my attention in recent years regarding the discovery of victims in brothels, farms, hotels and restaurants around the country, as well as the news coming out of Northern Ireland detailing the transition of nationalist and unionist paramilitaries beginning to engage in drug and arms trafficking and selling operations (and as we’ve seen with the Mexican drug cartels, drug trafficking is not a distant step from trafficking people).

What did surprise me, however, was Ireland’s place on the State Department’s tier system.

Living in Ireland for over three years during my undergraduate studies, I chose Ireland to write about today as my first country profile post not only because of my affection for the country, but also because of the shock I had from finding its place on the TIP tier list. The country has been, over the past decade, arguably one of the most developed nations in Europe, if not the world, and its laws in many aspects reflect those in place in Spain, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States – all Tier I countries. Before looking through the 2009 TIP Report this evening, I had naturally assumed that Ireland’s fight against trafficking was on par with its neighboring EU partners. I was clearly quite wrong.

Ireland has a rich background steeped in historic campaigns for freedom against a multitude of oppressors and slave-like conditions throughout the nation’s existence. The fight against modern-day slavery within its borders should be nothing new – and indeed should come naturally – for the people of Ireland, and I am heartened to see the country’s government stepping up to the plate to combat it. More needs to be done, yes, but as awareness of trafficking continues to advance in the public consciousness of the Irish people through the efforts of the government and countless in-country NGOs, I have no doubt that the vigorous efforts prescribed by the 2009 TIP Report will be a part of the country’s law in no time.

*There is far more to be learned about the Irish government’s, and various Irish NGOs’ efforts to stop trafficking in Ireland. If you are interested in learning more, or if you are in Ireland wishing to find a way to help abolish modern day slavery in your community, please see the State Department’s full country report on Ireland and the following resource links.

Text of 2009 State Department TIP Report for Ireland:

(Or, if you don’t want to scroll all the way down, here is a page of simply the TIP Report’s Ireland text):

Cois Tine (A Roman Catholic Irish immigrant rights organization) Trafficking Resources Page:

A list of articles and resources regarding trafficking in Ireland: