‘Car wash slavery’ focus of Donegal trafficking inquiry

Victims had passports taken away and never received money promised to them


Gardaí have detected an international crime gang trafficking men into the northwest to work in car washes.

It is believed to be the first case of so-called “car wash slavery” in the Republic, though it has become a phenomenon in the UK and other parts of Europe in recent years.

A man suspected of being a member of a crime gang from Romania was arrested by gardaí in Donegal after several months of investigation.

The latest phase of the investigation began on August 30th when five Romanian men were removed from a business premises in Letterkenny. They were believed to have fallen victim to the trafficking gang. The five were taken to a place of safety and into the care of the State during the Garda operation.

They had been smuggled into Ireland illegally on the promise of jobs working in a Donegal car wash business where they would be paid cash and provided with accommodation. However, once in Ireland their passports were taken from them and the financial rewards they were promised never materialised.


Gardaí believe they were coerced to continue working in the car wash and feared their families in Romania would be harmed. With no English language skills and no legal status in Ireland, they were powerless to extricate themselves from their circumstances, gardaí believe. Of the five men taken to safety one month ago, four have since been reunited with their families.

In a second wave of Garda activity, another man thought to have been trafficked was located in Letterkenny on Tuesday and a man in his 40s was arrested.

The six men rescued ranged in age from 21 to 45 years.

The man arrested was taken into custody and questioned under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act. He was detained overnight before being released without charge as the investigation continues.


It is understood the Garda’s moves resulted from two related search operations in the Sligo area in recent months. A large volume of documentation, mobile phones and computers have been seized. They were being examined in an effort to pursue prosecutions against ringleaders of the Romanian trafficking gang in Ireland.

The Garda and other agencies have been in close contact with their counterparts in Romania with a view to supplying intelligence and evidence that could be used for prosecutions there.