A judge has dismissed all charges against two Co Cork trawler owners who appeared in court after a Garda investigation into the recruitment of non-European Union fishermen into the Irish fishing industry.
Leonard Hyde (62), of Four Winds, Weaver's Point, Crosshaven, and Pat O'Mahony (51) from Eltin's Wood, Kinsale, the owners of the Labardie Fisher, both denied two charges relating to breaches of immigration and employment law regarding work permits.
Both men were charged under the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 with 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 under the Employment Permits Act 2003 with employing a Filipino, Demie Balbin Omol (40), at Hugh Coveney Pier in Crosshaven between March 25th and June 10th 2015 without having an employment permit issued by the Minister for Employment.
Judge Aingeal Ní Chondúin said on Wednesday that if there was any doubt at all about whether the men knowingly breached immigration and employment law, then they must get the benefit of that doubt.
Mr Hyde and Mr O'Mahony told the court they had presumed the agency they had used to hire the men, Diamond Marine Services Ltd, had looked after their visas and work permits as it stated in the contract that the agent would "arrange all visas and travel documents".
Insp John Deasy put it Mr O'Mahony that he had travelled to Belfast Airport to collect Mr Omol and Lyndon Magale (26) but that their travel documents entitled them to travel to the UK and not to cross the border into the Republic. Mr O'Mahony said he was not aware of that and would not have collected the men and brought them to Cork if he thought it was illegal.
He said they repatriated the two Filipinos within days after gardaí searched their trawler in Crosshaven and made them aware they were working illegally.
Mr Hyde said the contract they signed in 2015 with Rainier Turingan of Diamond Marine Services was for the supply of two fully trained fishermen for a monthly fee of $1,075 per worker plus an up-front payment to Diamond Marine Services who then paid the fishermen.
He said it was the first time they had ever hired Filipino crew but numerous Irish boats used Filipino fishermen and they could be seen at many ports working without any difficulty.
Mr Hyde said the Workplace Relations Commission was aware of the practice of hiring Filipino crew and he and Mr O'Mahony were told that once the trawler was fishing outside a 12 mile (19 km) limit and the crew were living on the vessel, there would be no problem using Filipino crew.
Mr Hyde said they had decided to hire the men because it was impossible to get Irish crew. The workers came on transit visas which he understood allowed them to travel from their point of arrival to the trawler and at no stage had Mr Turingan told them the men could not work in the Republic.
The judge said nowhere in the contract between Labardie Fisher Ltd and the agent did it state that liability was limited to the UK and not the Republic and even though it seemed odd they had not sought legal advice on the contract, she had a doubt and dismissed the charges.