Government task force to investigate Guardian allegations of ‘modern slavery’ on Irish fishing trawlers

‘Evidence suggests some boat owners and crewing agencies smuggling illegal migrants to work on boats in Ireland’

Sligo News File Online

Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, TD.
Minister for Agriculture,
Simon Coveney, TD.

The allegations of ‘human trafficking’ surrounding sections of the Irish fishing industry will shock a country where the government has consistently claimed to be strictly controlling the entry of illegal migrants to the state.

According to the Guardian, innumerable undocumented foreign nationals have been illegally trafficked or induced in to Ireland to work on fishing vessels. Following a year-long investigation into the Irish prawn and  whitefish sector the newspaper reports that many of those recruited have spoken of working long hours, of sleep deprivation, poor pay, being cheated of wages, left hungry, living in fear of deportation and being  ordered to stay on their boats because the owners would be fined if they were spotted or stopped by the authorities.

The newspaper claims to have uncovered undocumented Ghanaian, Filipino, Egyptian and Indian workers manning boats in several Irish ports. Some migrant workers claimed they were deceived and appeared to  have been trafficked on to trawlers for labour exploitation, “an abuse that would be a form of modern slavery,” states the paper. Their evidence, the paper reports “suggests that some boat owners and crewing  agencies are smuggling African and Filipino workers in to Ireland through entry points at London Heathrow and Belfast airports, and then arranging for them to cross through from Northern Ireland through to the Republic by road, bypassing Irish immigration controls.

“We have identified undocumented migrant workers employed in breach variously of safety, employment, and immigration regulations on visits to Dublin’s port of Howth, Galway’s Rossaveel, Donegal’s Killybegs, Wicklow’s Arklow, Wexford’s Kilmore Quay, and several of County Cork’s most productive ports including Castletownbeare, Union Hall, Kinsale and Dunmore East,” the report states.

The fishing industry is worth more than €800 million to the Irish economy.

Ken Fleming of the International Transport Workers’ Federation said in the course of an interview for last night’s RTE Prime Time programme on the industry that the abuses “were noticed, it was reported to the authorities and it was not acted upon.” His organisation has reportedly stated that there are 8,000 migrant workers involved in the industry, the majority of them illegally. Mr. Fleming alleged that the government was  “complicit in the abuse” and that there was “no real input from garda immigration to the problem.”

Grainne O’Toole of the Migrant Rights Centre said her organisation was currently assessing a number of cases of human trafficking in the fishing industry. They had also seen “gross exploitation” of migrants in domestic  work and growingly in care work. Ms. O’Toole said nothing in the Guardian report had surprised her.

Speaking on the same programme, Minister for Agriculture, Food, Marine and the Navy Simon Coveney denied that the government was ‘turning a blind eye’ to the issue. He said the level of exploitation exposed in the Guardian article was “news” to him. “I was surprised at the level of exploitation potentially exposed through the article.” He said gardai in fishing locations “have been trained specifically on trafficking.”

However, he went on to state that foreign migrants have been trained on courses run this year by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the state agency for the development of the Irish seafood industry. He was not sure, he said if  they had been checked for ‘papers’.

“You’re saying a state agency is training them on safety but not checking if they have papers, isn’t that the entire  problem in a nutshell,” inquired the interviewer. He didn’t think so, said the Minister “because the focus of the BIM is actually on safety in terms of safety courses.”

Mr. Coveney also appeared to indicate that the government would not be expelling illegal migrants back to their respective countries. “If there are people here who are here illegally at the moment without papers we need to find, in
my view, a way of regularising their position as opposed to having some kind of witch hunt to find people to deport them.”

Such a course would add thousands more to the 4,000 migrants the government is already preparing to take into the state.

The government has confirmed that it has established a task force to look into the Guardian allegations.