Gardaí uncover large human-trafficking network involved in exploitation of migrant workers

Three men being questioned following operation, involving more than 100 gardaí, in Cork and Roscommon

Gardaí in Cork have uncovered a large human trafficking network involved in the exploitation of dozens of vulnerable migrant workers across the country.

Three men with suspected ties to the gang were arrested on Saturday morning following an operation involving more than 100 armed and uniform gardaí from various bureaus. They are being held under organised crime legislation that allows them to be detained for up to seven days.

Investigators believe the gang was involved in trafficking people into Ireland with the promise of paid employment and housing.

The gang seized the immigrants’ passports and identity documents and placed them in substandard accommodation in the midlands and the south of the country.


The victims were then placed in manual labour jobs in the industrial, agricultural and food sectors. Their wages were paid directly into accounts controlled by the gang. Gardaí do not suspect the victims’ employers were aware of the exploitation.

It is understood the trafficking victims would get little to no payment for their work. They were told they would be arrested or deported if they reported their situation to authorities.

The gang is made up mainly of eastern Europeans who are based in Ireland and abroad. It is understood most are from the Czech Republic. Many of the people targeted came from vulnerable groups.

The three arrested men, who are in their 30s and 40s, are being detained under section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2007. Questioning of the men continued on Sunday.

Gardaí have been watching the gang for a considerable period of time and have gathered a substantial amount of evidence.

On Saturday, dozens of gardaí carried out co-ordinated searches of five locations in Cork and two locations in Roscommon. As well as arresting three suspects, a large number of items of evidential value were seized in the searches, including travel documents and bank statements.

The operation was led by detectives from the Divisional Protective Service Unit, Cork County. Other units involved in the raids included the Armed Support Unit, the Human Trafficking Investigation and Co-ordination Unit, and the Garda Cyber Crime and National Economic Crime Bureaus.

Also involved were the Garda Mutual Assistance Section and the An Garda Síochána Analysis Service.

The investigation is being supported by Europol. It is understood investigators are co-ordinating with police forces in several EU countries, including the Czech Republic.

Sources said further arrests are expected.

Gardaí have appealed for victims of human trafficking or labour exploitation to come forward. They can contact any Garda station or the Garda Confidential phone number on 1800 666 111.

“An Garda Síochána understands that victims of these crimes may not always be in a position to report themselves, maybe there is opportunity to speak to a Garda who you might meet at any location,” said the organisation in a statement.

“Importantly, An Garda Síochána appeals to any person with any information on these heinous crimes or suspects that any person is the victim of human trafficking to speak up.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times