Tuesday 23 January 2018

Irish man (26) detained by armed police in Australia to be home 'by end of the week'

Bernard Lee
Bernard Lee

Tomás Heneghan

An Irish man who is being held in a detention centre in Australia will return to Ireland within the coming days

Bernard Lee (26), originally from Greystones, Co Wicklow, has said he is “very happy” to be returning to Ireland on Friday.

Mr Lee, who says he could be back in Ireland by next Saturday night, was arrested by Australian police and immigration officers at his Perth home early last week.

Speaking to RTE’s Liveline on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Lee said he will be escorted to the airport in handcuffs and back to Ireland by security guards, despite being free to walk freely around Australia for the past seven years.

He also said if he returns to Australia at any stage in the future he believes he will be presented with the bill for the cost of transporting him back to Ireland.

He said he will now have to “explore all avenues” after he returns home as his girlfriend and her family are Australian.

Mr Lee had, up to the point of his detention, been working seven-day weeks as a tiler in Australia.

Speaking from Yongah Hill Detention Centre near Perth, Mr Lee said there were another five Irish people in the facility and one he was sharing a room with another Irish man, Padraig, who had been there for 11 weeks.

Today, his mother Una confirmed to Independent.ie the family was working with a number of Irish bodies and was hopeful Bernard would be back in Ireland by “the end of this week, beginning of next week.”

“We’ve been working away on it and we’re hopeful that we’re going to get a release fairly soon, thanks to the efforts through both the diplomatic channels and the media,” she explained.

However, she added: “[It’s] still a bit up in the air but we’re hoping that sort of in the next week or so, so it’s looking a lot more positive than it was.

“Until he’s actually on the flight one can never be sure in these situations.”

She said the family has been working with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Irish Consulate in Perth and the Irish ambassador in Canberra to secure her son’s release.

Mr Lee had been living and working in Australia for the past seven years and had recently applied for an employer-sponsored residents’ visa.

However, the Australian authorities detained him when they claimed he had been issued with a letter refusing his application and cancelling the business visa he had been using.

Both Mr Lee and his lawyer have denied receiving such a letter.

Mr Lee said he believed his previous criminal convictions in Australia, including an obstruction of police and two drink-driving offences, had led to the rejection of his application of a residents’ visa.

The man’s family had previously said an appeal process could take a number of weeks or months.

Although Bernard is happy with the possibility of returning to Ireland soon, he is concerned for some of the other Irish people being held at the Australian detention centre, his mum revealed.

“Well obviously he’s delighted but in all these situations you can sometimes get false hopes, so you try to modify your reaction to take it on board and keep calm.

“I know that he’s really concerned also about a number of other Irish guys who are in the detention centre. They have been there for a long time and maybe aren’t fortunate enough to have the same sort of support network he has.

“He’s very conscious that although we may have achieved something for him, there are other guys in there as well who have been there for a long time.”

She added: “While we wanted to really highlight it and let people know what’s going on we also appreciate that there are other guys in there as well.”

Ms Lee said she was surprised such an incident could have occurred in Australia.

“It’s very positive that we’ve been able to highlight that this sort of thing happens in what one would consider to be a very civilised country with a justice system based on the English justice system, as ours is.

“It’s not the sort of thing you expect to happen. You think of it happening maybe in other countries but not in a country like Australia.

“Maybe it’s opened a few eyes to what can go on and that when you wave goodbye to your son on his adventure out to Australia there can be repercussions, things can happen.”

She also said the family would be pursuing the issue following Bernard’s return and would be working with his lawyer to figure out the how the detention occurred.

“The main issue we are concerned about is the way the situation was handled, that he did not receive a notification and that he was detained before he had received any notification that his visas had been cancelled.

“We will be continuing to work with Bernard’s lawyer to clarify the situation.”

When contacted, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland said it could not comment on individual cases.

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