IMMIGRATION and work permit charges have been dismissed against two West Cork fishermen who used a marine agent to hire Filipino sailors to work on their Cork-based trawler.
Pat O’Mahony (51) Eltin’s Wood, Kinsale and Leonard Hyde (63) of Four Winds, Weaver’s Point, Crosshaven, had insisted to Cork District Court they understood the UK agency they hired would ensure full compliance with all work permit and passport regulations. Both also insisted that the two Filipino fishermen involved were treated with every consideration and respect while they worked on the Labardie Fisher trawler.
The men told the two-day trial that, had they any inkling the two Filipino sailors were not legally entitled to work in Ireland because they had entered via Belfast, they would never have contracted them.
Since 2015, an inter-departmental working group has overhauled work permit arrangements for Filipino nationals in the Irish fishing sector. The judge said that ‘mindset’ was a central issue to the case, and doubted whether the men realised what they were doing was not in proper compliance with regulations.
Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (ISWFPO) official John Tatten told the trial that, as far as he understood, in 2015 what the two men had done was entirely in compliance with regulations. He pointed out that fishermen in other jurisdictions were engaged in widespread recruitment of Filipino sailors.
Mr Hyde and Mr O’Mahony described the ordeal they faced over the investigation and subsequent prosecution as ‘a two-year nightmare’. Up to 30 fishermen packed into court to support the duo, cheering as the judge dismissed all charges within minutes of the closing arguments.
‘It was two years of absolute torment,’ Mr Hyde said. ‘You have no idea – it was hard, very hard. Trying to fish and put up with all of this. We didn’t do (what was alleged) and that was it.’
Mr O’Mahony agreed it had been two very difficult years. ‘We are just very thankful it is all over,’ he said. ‘We want to say thanks to everyone for the support and want to go back fishing now.’
Defence solicitor David Browne said migrant worker issues were very complex and confusing at the time.
‘It was hard for lawyers, let alone fishermen, to know what was right and what was wrong,’ he said.
The trawler operators said they had entered a contract with Diamond Marine in 2015, for the supply of the two trained Filipino fishermen for ,075 per worker per month and an up-front fee, with the agent then paying an agreed amount to their families in the Philippines.
Mr O’Mahony and Mr Hyde were charged with knowingly facilitating the entry into the State of a person whom they knew, or had reasonable cause to believe, was an illegal immigrant, or who intended applying for asylum. They were also charged with employing a foreign national at Hugh Coveney Pier in Crosshaven between March and June 2015, without having a permit issued by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
The State had argued that two Filipino nationals working on Labardie Fisher did not have valid work permits for Ireland. Both had arrived in the UK and had then gone to Belfast in March 2015. They were collected by Mr O’Mahony and driven, along with the shipping agent, south to Cork.
In a voluntary Garda interview on January 21st 2016, Mr O’Mahony insisted they had been assured all requirements had been looked after by the agent. Mr Hyde, in his voluntary Garda statement, insisted the same.
Judge Aingeal Ní Chondúin dismissed all the charges as she said there was nothing she could find in the contract agreed with the agent which said the agent’s responsibilities ended at the UK border. The judge did add, however, that it was ‘surprising’ legal advice had not been taken in respect of that agent’s contract.