TWO Cork fishermen have insisted they were assured by an overseas shipping agent that Filipino sailors hired for trawler work would be in full compliance with visa, work permit and passport regulations.
At the hearing, a large contingent of fishermen from towns including Castletownbere and Kinsale, were in court to support the defendants.
Pat O’Mahony (51) and Leonard Hyde (63) both vehemently insisted to Cork District Court that the Filipino sailors were treated with every consideration and respect while they worked on the ‘Labardie Fisher’ trawler operating from Crosshaven.
In statements to gardaI, Mr Hyde revealed that when Filipino national Demie Balbin Omol (40) got seriously ill just six weeks after arriving in Ireland, his wife wanted him to move to their home to recuperate.
While the man was in hospital, he was visited, provided with cash, credit to phone home and even pyjamas.
Both men also insisted to gardaí that the Filipinos were provided with whatever food they liked, cash for groceries and sundries, phone credit so they could call home, wifi, TV services and regular time off. Both also had full control of their own passports and could leave the trawler at any time when it was berthed in Cork. The trawler operators said they had entered a contract with a shipping agent, Diamond Marine, in 2015 for the supply of the two trained Filipino fishermen for a monthly fee of ,075 per worker.
The agent then paid an agreed amount of this money to the men’s families in the Philippines. Both trawler operators also paid the agent an upfront fee.
‘We couldn’t get any Irish staff,’ Mr O’Mahony told gardaí.
‘There are 90% of the Irish boats ... who cannot get enough Irish staff. It was a gun to the head – we couldn’t get Irish staff (for the trawler).’
Both men have denied charges before Cork District Court, lodged following a Garda investigation into the use of migrant or non-EU workers within the Irish fishing industry.
The probe was launched, Cork District Court heard, following allegations in a series of articles two years ago by The Guardian newspaper in the UK.
Mr O’Mahony of Eltin’s Wood, Kinsale, and Mr Hyde of Four Winds, Weaver’s Point, Crosshaven, denied before Judge Aingeal Ni Chonduin a charge of knowingly facilitating the entry into the State on March 25th 2015 of a person whom they knew, or had reasonable cause to believe, was an illegal immigrant, or a person who intended applying for asylum.
They were also charged with employing a foreign national at Hugh Coveney Pier in Crosshaven on October 5th 2015 without having an employment permit issued by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Inspector John Deasy outlined that the charges followed a visit to Crosshaven pier by Det Garda Maureen Moriarty of the Garda immigration bureau on October 5 2015.
The trawler ‘Labardie Fisher’ was boarded. Details were obtained of two Filipino nationals, Mr Omol and Lyndon Nagale (26). An investigation by Det Garda Moriarty and Det Garda Michelle Saunders found that neither Filipino national had a work permit for Ireland. Neither had immigration stamps in their passports.
Both had arrived in the UK and had then gone to Belfast.
They were collected by Mr O’Mahony at Belfast Airport and driven, along with the shipping agent, south to Cork. They began fishing duties immediately on arrival.
In a voluntary Garda interview on January 21 2016, Mr O’Mahony insisted they had been assured all visa, work permit and passport requirements had been looked after by the agent. ‘As far as I was concerned, the agent did all that,’ he said. Mr O’Mahony had no inkling about the lack of proper permits for the men – and even posted social media messages from Belfast Airport as he awaited their arrival. Mr Hyde, in his voluntary Garda statement, insisted he understood the agent had taken care of all such details and requirements. Mr Hyde said he had never before contracted for non-EU workers. ‘I won’t be hiring them anymore,’ he said.
The Cork fisherman also said that, having worked in the industry since 1969, he had a proud reputation for being fair and honourable to work with. Defence solicitor, David Browne, told the court that both menhad been ‘guaranteed’ by the agent that all paperwork was in order for the two Filipino nationals.
It was revealed that Mr Nagale, who had to return to the Philippines because of the controversy, was heartbroken to leave his Cork job and begged to be allowed to stay. Both Filipinos returned home from Ireland.
Mr Omol underwent lengthy treatment at the Mercy University Hospital (MUH) in Cork for a stomach tumour. More than 30 Irish fishermen from Castletownbere, Dunmore East, Kinsale, Ballycotton and Crosshaven attended the court hearing to support the two defendants.
Judge Ni Chonduin warned she had no option but to adjourn the remainder of the lengthy case given the pressures on the court list. ‘I have to take public safety into account [because of possible over-crowding],’ she said. She warned that if she attempted to postpone 139 cases on the waiting traffic list: ‘I’d be lynched.’
‘It is important I get it right. This is a very important issue,’ she said.
Judge Ni Chonduin adjourned the case until March 8th.