Gardaí on Wednesday arrested an Egyptian fisherman in west Cork for failing to produce identification and work permit papers. The arrest came as a new Government taskforce prepares to examine claims of exploitation of foreign workers in the fishing industry.
Gardaí arrested the Egyptian man on Union Hall pier on Wednesday afternoon on suspicion of a breach of the 2004 Immigration Act when he was unable to produce the necessary documentation about his work status.
It is understood the man was one of two Egyptian men working on board an Irish registered trawler who were questioned by gardaí. The second man was able to produce papers which satisfied gardaí.
The detained man was later brought to Macroom District Court where he was charged with an offence under the Immigration Act and he was remanded in custody at Bandon Garda Station by Judge James McNulty to appear at Bandon District Court on Thursday.
The arrest came just a day after the Guardian newspaper alleged fishermen from Egypt and the Philippines and some African countries are trafficked into the Republic via Northern Ireland to work in the Irish fishing industry where they are exploited by being forced to work long hours for low pay.
The investigation prompted Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney to set up an interdepartmental taskforce to examine allegations of exploitation in the fishing industry. The taskforce is due to hold its first meeting on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) said it was “very concerned” about undocumented migrant fishermen being targeted by immigration authorities.
The organisation’s workplace rights co-ordinator Gráínne O’Toole called on Mr Coveney to ensure an amnesty is put in place “as a matter of urgency” so that the situation of undocumented crew can be regulated.
The MRCI has not yet been invited to participate in the new taskforce but it has sought a meeting with Mr Coveney, as it was concerned the Guardian report would result in spot checks being carried out by gardaí, with "the fear that workers would be served with deportation notices".
The MRCI, which is working on 17 cases involving the rights of foreign nationals in the Irish fishing industry, supports the industry’s call for a system of work permits to ensure labour shortages within the sector can be met, but says the permits must be “sectoral”, rather than tied to an employer.
According to fishing sources, Wednesday's arrest of the Egyptian fisherman in Union Hall came as gardaí were accompanying officials from the Marine Survey Office from the Department of Transport, who were carrying out an inspection of the Irish-registered trawler.
However, a department spokesman said the Marine Survey Office was responsible solely for the safety on board the trawler and had no involvement in the issue of whether crew had the proper work permits and other documentation.
A Department of Justice spokesman similarly said that it had no role to play in this case while a Department of the Marine spokesman said it was not aware of any particular operation focusing on the issue of migrant workers ahead of Thursday’s taskforce meeting.