Shoddy work brings back bad old days of 'no Irish need apply'

Tue, Jun 5, 2012, 01:00

SYDNEY LETTER: A string of incidents involving a small minority of Irish people have been giving the blameless majority a bad name

THERE ARE more Irish people than ever before working in Australia, but a tiny minority are giving the rest a bad name.

A record 21,753 Irish nationals got Australian working holiday visas in the year to June 30th last – an almost 50 per cent increase on the number granted the previous year. This figure is almost certain to be surpassed when the numbers to June 30th this year are collated.

There has also been an increase of close to 20 per cent in the numbers of Irish people getting a “457 visa”, open to those with particular skills such as engineering. Only British and Indian citizens get more of these 457 visas.

However this year has seen a string of incidents in which some Irish people have been giving the blameless majority a bad name.

In January, two Irish people were convicted over unlicensed building work and subsequently deported. In February, in New South Wales, another seven Irish were charged with similar offences.

In Queensland, meanwhile, people were warned about a gang of Irish bitumen-layers charging thousands of dollars for shoddy work. “It seems to be a never- ending problem and people need to be on the alert for these smooth- talking Irish,” said Queensland local councillor Paul Tully.

An internet job ad in March looking for a bricklayer in Perth warned that “no Irish” need apply.

When The Irish Times rang the number in the ad, the phone was answered by an Irishman. “They were just not turning [up]. It’s a lot different over here,” he replied when asked why the ad rejected his countrymen.

“Coming in hung over on a Monday morning is no good . . . I’m trying to run a business here.”

In a case compared to the film The Hangover, April saw an Irishman convicted in Melbourne after he went on a six-week spending spree with fraudulently obtained credit card details.

Michael Hegarty from Co Meath, along with two Australian accomplices, used credit card numbers bought for $9 (€7) each online and spent an estimated $30,000 to $35,000 on five-star hotels, fine restaurants, limousines and alcohol before they were caught.

Hegarty was jailed for 90 days, with the term suspended for 12 months, and ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid community work.

Keeping up a strong batting average of misbehaviour, last month saw young Irish backpackers in Perth being warned by the police that they faced deportation if they did not curb their antisocial activities.

The police are seeking the help of Perth’s GAA clubs to get the message across. A warning email sent out by one club to its members read: “The WA [Western Australian] police are extremely unhappy and appalled by the antisocial behaviour which is taking place all too often on the streets. Even rental agencies are not as willing to rent properties to Irish people here in Perth as they are getting destroyed during parties, and left in terrible conditions once vacated.”

The GAA president in WA, Robert O’Callaghan, said it should not be “construed that they’re targeting the GAA”. “The police just basically took it on themselves to have a chat to the clubs,” he said.

Regardless of all the bad behaviour, an unemployment rate of 4.9 per cent means Australia is experiencing labour shortages, so Irish people will continue to be welcomed.

In Western Australia, which is going through a massive resources- fuelled boom, the unemployment rate is 3.8 per cent.

The government has just announced it will allow 1,700 foreigners to work on a $9 billion iron ore mining project in the state. Given the recent track record, many of these will be Irish.

Those thinking about applying for a skilled visa will soon find the process speeded up through the “SkillSelect” programme, which is being introduced on July 1st.

Minister for immigration Chris Bowen said: “SkillSelect will ensure visas are allocated to the best and brightest skilled migrants so that the migration programme can better meet the needs of Australian businesses.”

The programme is partly designed to help ensure better distribution of skilled visas to regional areas, where some industries are suffering from a shortage of workers. Visa applicants who indicate they are willing to live and work in regional Australia could increase their chances of getting pre-arranged employment and thus being granted a visa.

However the traffic is not just going one way.

It has emerged that both Facebook and Google’s Australian arms are channelling the vast majority of their advertising revenue through their Irish operations, where corporate tax is less than half that of the 30 per cent rate in Australia.

Google Australia paid $74,176 to the Australian tax department on revenue of $201 million last year. New legislation which aims to curb this practice has been introduced in the federal parliament.

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