Two Irish fishermen were cheered by family and friends after they were cleared at Cork District Court of breaches of immigration and employment law after they hired two Filipinos to work on their trawler.
A round of applause greeted Judge Aingeal Ni Chonduin's declaration that she had a doubt in her mind and was dismissing all charges against Leonard Hyde from Crosshaven and Pat O'Mahony from Kinsale.
Speaking afterwards outside the Washington Street Courthouse in Cork, Mr Hyde said the past two years or so had been highly stressful for them and for their families.
“Two years of torment [is] gone. Thank God – you have no idea what it was like – it was hard, very hard, trying to fish and put up with all this . Healthwise, it’s been very stressful for all of us and our families,” he said.
Mr O'Mahony thanked the fishermen who supported them, including John Tattan of the South and West Fish Producers Organisation and skipper John Walsh who testified that other crews hired Filipino fishermen in the same way.
“We had brilliant support from the fishing community – we just want to go back fishing and doing our job,” said Mr O’Mahony, who said he could not say whether they would hire Filipino crew again.
During the trial, John Tattan of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation said that the practice of hiring Filipinos through an agency is common in Ireland and Scotland.
Mr Tattan said he met with Rainier Turingan of Diamond Marine Services Ltd during a visit to Crosshaven. Later Mr Turingan offered to supply 80 Filipino crew for Irish South and West Producers Organisation boats.
“I couldn’t see it as being anything other than that it was legal and above board. If, as part of a producer organisation, we felt it was a scam – and we had our legal people look at it – we would have sent out a notice to boat owners advising them against it,” he said.
The then Minister for the Marine, Simon Coveney, set up an inquiry after the Guardian reported allegations of exploitation of Filipino, Egyptian and other non-EU fishermen in the Irish fishing industry.
"After the Guardian article, it was still necessary to have these people in Ireland. There was a government amnesty to allow these people stay in the country until their permits were sorted out," said Mr Tattan.
Mr Walsh told the trial that he had hired three Filipino fishermen a decade ago in the same way. “I would take a bullet for them – they were the best of men,” he said.
The State, he said, knew all about the hirings; the three crew did a three-day BIM safety course before they got their safety certificates to work on his trawler.