Fishermen may sue over newspaper's migrants claims
Irish fishermen are considering legal action against a British newspaper over claims migrant workers were mistreated by them, a legal firm has confirmed.
The move follows allegations made in The Guardian newspaper that non-EU workers had been underpaid and forced to live on their boats and banned from going ashore.
More serious allegations of human trafficking were also made.
Fishermen's representatives say they want any abuses investigated but say the alleged practices are not as widespread as claimed in the newspaper investigation.
The Migrant Rights Ireland Centre says it has dealt with 19 cases, 17 of foreign nationals who were underpaid or mistreated and two involving allegations of human trafficking.
Specialist maritime lawyer Dermot Conway told the Irish Independent last night that several boat owners are now considering legal action in light of the newspaper claims. The Cork-based solicitor said he had dealt with a number of claims made by the London-based paper before publication.
"At all times I was very unhappy with any specifics in the allegations being made; they were extremely generic in nature and the same generic allegations were put to several boat owners without any substantial difference," said Mr Conway.
"The article itself bears out the lack of detailed evidence that you would expect to support such allegations. It cannot be overlooked how serious those allegations are and the scrutiny they have brought to bear on the fishing industry.
"Prior to publication I put The Guardian fully on notice that any and all specific allegations would have to be accurate or my respective clients would consider proceedings for defamation and consider going to the Press Council of the UK. We are now studying all the material in minute detail."
One boat owner who received a pre-publication letter from The Guardian said they vehemently denied the allegations. They insist a non-EU national who made allegations to the newspaper worked for them for just nine weeks and worked no more than eight hours per day.
He had access to satellite TV, wifi, free medical care, free phone calls home and accommodation throughout his time. He was also given extra pay above the agency rate.
The Irish Independent put a number of specific questions to The Guardian including asking for details of the number of foreign nationals involved in its allegations.
However the newspaper issued a broad statement saying: "The Guardian stands by its thorough investigation into conditions among migrant fishermen working in the Irish fishing fleet. We are pleased that the Irish and UK governments have responded to it by acknowledging that human trafficking for labour exploitation in the fishing fleets in Ireland is one of their priorities."