Lifting the lid on a decade of domestic slavery in Ireland

‘Maria’ recently emerged from a 10-year ordeal, the longest case yet discovered in Ireland. Her experience suggests we have poor supports for dealing with such cases

Sat, Nov 30, 2013, 01:00

Since July, however, the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Amendment Act 2013 includes a clear definition of forced labour. O’Toole is hopeful Ireland may see its first prosecution in coming months.

The lack of support for people who have escaped slavery is a continuing concern, however. O’Toole points to the recent case in London where three women were rescued by police and a charity working in collaboration from 30 years of abuse and forced labour.

“They were immediately brought to a safe place where they were surrounded by support, and have been given time to recover and reflect before deciding whether they want to take part in any criminal prosecution.

“Contrast that with what has happened to Maria. Her story was met with initial scepticism, and then she was abandoned in accommodation that is unsuitable for anyone long-term. We need to start doing the right thing here, supporting people, giving them time to be able to engage with the criminal justice system, if they want.”

A spokesman for the Department of Justice says it is up to each individual to determine the pace at which they want to engage with a criminal investigation. If they are illegally in the State, he says, they are entitled to a 60-day period of “recovery and reflection”, during which time they would not be deported.

O’Toole says that this is not happening and that victims are not getting the supports they need. She says it is difficult to know how widespread the issue is. The MRCI can no longer afford to proactively investigate the areas known elsewhere to use forced labour: agriculture, restaurants, domestic settings and some in the diplomatic corps who bring “workers” from their own countries.

“We hear all the time of suspected cases, but the only ones we can help are the ones who come to us.”

Maria says she would like to get some training and to get justice for what happened to her. “Sometimes if I think about what happened, I feel so bad. I feel afraid. I try not to talk about it, but I think a lot about it,” she says. “I have a lot in my head, too much.”


Migrant Rights Centre Ireland is holding a conference on Monday – Identifying Human Trafficking for Forced Labour: International and National Perspectives – at the Jury’s Inn on Custom House Quay, Dublin

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