In October, armed gardaí accompanied by members of the Garda Dog Unit as well as officials from Revenue and Customs and officials from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) raided 41 trawlers in Castletownbere in Co Cork, Howth in Dublin and offshore.
The manner of the morning raids in the initiative codenamed ‘Operation Eggshell’ on 22 fishing vessels in Castletownbere, 16 in Howth and three offshore was criticised by the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) which made a formal complaint to GSOC.
At the time, chief executive of the IFPO Francis O’Donnell said the use of firearms was degrading for the fishing industry and bewildering.
However, in a written Dáil reply to Cork TD Mick Barry, the minister confirmed “no evidence of human trafficking or labour exploitation was found in any location”.
She said: “A number of suspected breaches of the atypical work permit scheme for non-EEA crew, were detected, as well as other suspected breaches of employment law, immigration law and tax offences.”
The minister also said the operation was carried out as part of a global alliance, including police chiefs, to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery.
Yesterday, Mr O’Donnell said he welcomed confirmation that no evidence of human trafficking or labour exploitation had been found. He said the complaint to GSOC remains live.
“I felt from a reputational perspective, the raids were damaging for us. Some of our people woke up in their beds on boats to find people standing over them with firearms.
“The process of the whole thing was really incredible with the use of armed gardaí and alsatian dogs. Fishermen are very, very, hard-working people. Psychologically, they found the raids very, very, difficult.”
“Talking to some of them, within their own communities, they felt criminalised and that they were made to look and feel like criminals as a result of the raids.
“When you use that level of force, you normally would be expecting to come into contact with people who are armed and very dangerous or dealing with heavy levels of criminality. You could not say that of the Irish fishing industry, it was a step beyond what any decent person could conjure up in their own mind,” he said.