'Gang kept more than 20 slave workers in rural Meath'
More than 20 Romanian workers, who were forced to live in severely cramped conditions in a single house, have told gardaí they were denied access to their wages by a gang who brought them here.
Their wage packets were paid into a bank account by their employer. But the bank account, they say, was controlled by gang members who retained the number and the PIN details.
Gardaí found the 23 workers on Thursday night after one of them managed to get out of the house at Castletown, Kilpatrick, 6km outside Navan, and alerted an officer to their plight.
Officers from Navan also arrested six suspected members of a human trafficking gang and brought them to Kells and Ashbourne stations.
The suspects - three men, two women aged in their early 40s and early 60s and an 18-year-old girl - are also understood to be Romanian.
They were questioned throughout yesterday about alleged false imprisonment of the group of workers.
Last night they were being held under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act and can be detained without charge for a maximum of 24 hours, excluding rest periods.
The 23 workers were all employed by a waste firm but gardaí were satisfied that the company had no knowledge of their plight. Initial inquiries indicate that the 23 all found jobs through a recruitment agency and officers are now hoping to interview staff at the agency to establish what they knew about the payment and living arrangements of the Romanians.
A senior garda officer said last night that their investigation remained at an early stage and they were carrying out inquiries to determine how the group arrived in this country and how long they were here.
In the meantime, the 23 victims have been given temporary accommodation in two centres controlled by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) after being taken to Navan Garda Station for immediate care and assistance.
An interpreter has been hired to help with garda interviews of the victims and suspects.
Officers from the recently established garda national protection services bureau have joined local personnel in the follow-up inquiries while staff from the human trafficking unit in the Department of Justice, RIA officials and HSE personnel are also involved.
Gardaí said the victims appeared to have no direct access to their wages and were dependant on the group, who controlled the bank account, for any financial assistance.
The garda operation was praised by Edel McGinley, of the Dublin-based Migrant Rights Centre Ireland group, who said: "Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
"We believe there are hundreds of people in similar situations every day in Ireland, where they have been trafficked into the country and held as modern day slaves.
"We have been warning for some time that migrant workers are being exploited in a number of industries".
She said her organisation had dealt with 200 victims.
In one case, she said, Eastern European workers at a car wash were being given €5 a day to buy food.