A MAJOR inter-agency sweep of 20 boats was carried out in Castletownbere on Wednesday morning to see if illegal immigrant workers were on board.
A skipper in the area estimated that there was a combined force of 50 people – including detectives, Revenue Commissioners, and members of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) – engaged in the searches at Dinish Island, between 9am and noon on Wednesday.
The skipper said five men – two detectives, two WRC staff, and a member of the Revenue team – boarded his boat shortly after 9.30am.
The skipper said he employs one non-EU worker on that boat and that everything – which had already been checked out a month ago – was found to be fully compliant.
‘I have nothing to hide,’ said the skipper, who suggested: ‘A phone call wouldn’t have gone amiss.’
The Garda press office declined to comment other than to say: ‘For operational reasons An Garda Síochána are not commenting on this operation at present.’
In addition to the gardai on the dockside, the skipper said there were two RIBS with three men in each, patrolling the harbour throughout the entire operation.
And he described the whole operation as being: ‘Like using a sledgehammer to squash a peanut – it was pure and utter overkill.’
The skipper admitted he was ‘annoyed’ at the size and scale of the search, but accepted that the group had the authority to search his and other boats, and that checks have to be carried out.
But, he argued: ‘We are probably the most regulated industry in the world. We are checked before we go out, we are checked outside, and again when we come back in.’
John Nolan, manager of Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-op, told The Southern Star that the National Employment Regulation Authority (NERA) came to Castletownbere about six months ago to explain new regulations regarding non-EU workers.
‘The new regulations said you could bring in people – from outside the European Union – on a licence. This meant they had to be hired and paid a weekly wage, instead of being paid a share of the catch, which is more traditional,’ said John. ‘These wages, like any normal job, have to be taxed, and all the paperwork has to be in order.’
Of the 400 people engaged in fishing in Castletownbere, John said there are about 40 non-EU workers currently working under these conditions. ‘Most of our crews are fully Irish crews, but most of our young people are gone, so we are hiring in.’
John Nolan has previously gone on record to reject suggestions that non-EU workers are badly treated within the fishing industry. ‘We do things correctly,’ he said, ‘and I might be pre-empting their findings, but this morning’s raid will prove that.’