Dr Colm Henry and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan speaking at the daily Department of Health’s Covid-19 press briefing
At the Department of Health’s nightly Covid-19 press briefing.
Newstalk journalist Shane Beatty asked Dr Holohan about the controversy surrounding Keeling’s.
Specifically, Mr Beatty asked Dr Holohan if he was “comfortable” with the idea of companies chartering flights and bringing people into Ireland.
Dr Holohan replied: “No.”
Asked what his response is to Keeling’s, Dr Holohan said:
“Well, I didn’t know about it. Perhaps like you, became aware of it after it had happened.”
Asked what he would say to companies such as Keeling’s, Dr Holohan said:
“So it wouldn’t really be consistent with the public health advice that we’ve been giving and I think some of that advice does have implications in relation to travel and for people who are travelling. We’ve been very clear and consistent on what that advice is.
“I don’t want to be critical of any individual or any individual circumstances. I don’t know the details of the circumstances. I’m aware of, in general terms, what’s been reported in the media but I think what I would refer you to is our consistent public health advice…”
As a family business Keelings acknowledge the concerns of people and fully understand the reasons for these concerns.
We also acknowledge that our communication to the public should have been both faster and more detailed during this Covid crisis.
Keelings has been growing and packing fruit and vegetables for the Irish market since the 1920s. We continue to operate from our farm at St Margaret’s in north County Dublin.
The business currently employs about 1,700 people in growing, harvesting, importing & packing fresh produce and in sales, distribution and management.
During the main Irish fruit and vegetable season from April to October, we employ temporary horticultural workers to harvest – about 900 over the season.
This is demanding work requiring a high level of dexterity and product knowledge.
Up until the late 1990’s, we recruited most of our seasonal workers locally, but over the last 20 years there has been less interest from Irish people in this work.
For the past 20 years, most of our seasonal work has been done by experienced horticultural workers from other EU countries, often from Poland, Latvia and now from Bulgaria. They typically come to Ireland for six months.
This year we recruited in the usual manner over the winter and commenced our job offers at the end of October 2019 to experienced horticultural workers to ensure our Irish harvest.
Up to 70% of our seasonal workers return to us year after year.
Like other businesses, we changed our plans and operations in response to the evolving COVID-19 crisis.
As the pandemic crisis emerged we considered both local staff and international staff and made the decision that we most likely needed both to ensure we could continue to supply the Irish market.
We have advertised locally over 2 weeks ago and up until last evening we had 27 applications which falls significantly short of our labour needs. Today we have received a further 13 applications so far.
We hope to employ as many of these people as possible.
Keelings assists in finding accommodation for our seasonal workers across a number of locations, and provides bus transport to our farm at St. Margaret’s each working day (i.e. Monday-Saturday).
All the workers are protected by local employment legislation up to and including EU working time directives.
We are proud of our relationship with the seasonal employees, most of whom return each year and some of whom have been coming to us for more than 10 years.
We want to assure the public that we are following the HSE & HPSC guidelines as they continue to evolve.
On Monday April 13, 189 seasonal workers flew on a charter flight from Sofia to Dublin. All had been health screened by a doctor before they travelled to Sofia airport where they were temperature checked before entry.
Ryanair can confirm that all regulations were adhered to. They were taken straight to their housing.
In accordance with HSE guidelines, they cannot work for 14 days after their arrival and their movements are restricted.
We will take care of these colleagues as we take care of all of our people, permanent or temporary.
They will be subject to further medical screening before they start work at Keelings. We will continue to consult with the HSE and other appropriate agencies to ensure both our staff and the communities they live in remain safe.
As part of Ireland’s essential food supply chain, our role is to provide good, healthy and affordable food to the people of Ireland, produced sustainably and safely.
Keelings appreciates, acknowledges and unreservedly thanks the public for their concern. We really hope that this statement serves to clarify and reassure.
A fresh statement released this evening by Keelings following the ongoing controversy over the arrival of 189 fruit pickers from Bulgaria on a Ryanair flight chartered by the company yesterday.
Following controversy over the the arrival of 189 fruit pickers from Bulgaria on a Ryanair flight yesterday chartered by Keelings, the company released a statement last night….
‘We can confirm that a number of skilled horticulture staff have returned to Ireland to work with Keelings.
We are also recruiting for local workers to join us in picking our crops on the farm along with other roles in the Keelings business.
It is essential that we have adequate staffing on the farm to pick crops quickly as they ripen, or we risk shortages in the market.
The Keeling family is very proud of our amazing team of people in Keelings who are all working very hard and delivering on our responsibility to ensure there is a full supply of Fresh Fruit & Vegetables for everyone.
Across our entire business we have also worked tirelessly to implement the HSE and Government guidelines to ensure we are protecting the health of all of our people
. This includes thorough & repeated Covid19 safety coaching and instruction to follow all the HSE guidelines, which includes 14 days of restricted movement for any new arrivals in the country, prior to starting work in Keelings.
A very important part of our workforce for many years has been our skilled seasonal workers who return to us to help pick our fruit and manage our plant health. Without these seasonal workers it would be impossible to bring fresh Irish strawberries to the Irish market.
We understand the concern in the current environment regarding both social distancing and local employment. We want to assure the public that we are doing all we can to help support local employment at this time and to ensure the safety of all our workers.
We again want to assure people that no horticulture worker coming from another region will be asked to work without a full 14 days restricted movement.’
What racism? I am an immigrant living in Ireland, and this is not racism. This is an Irish company ignoring Irish people that need work, and endangering people living here. It’s common sense, not racism. What is disgusting is Keelings behaviour and flagrant disregard for Ireland.
— Ruth Kloppers (@ruth_kloppers) April 16, 2020
#keelings getting an awful battering but the fact is Ire, UK and Germany have all had to fly in workers to pick fruit and stop it rotting as they can’t get local workers. Only 10-15% of 80000 uk fruit pickers are from UK. People just won’t do the work. pic.twitter.com/6hDWZtUZPw
— David Bohan (@david_bohan) April 16, 2020
Nobody is stopping you (or any of your Irish brothers or sisters) from picking fruit. If you want one of these jobs so much, here is the link to apply:https://t.co/nIfolGMVAt
— Fintan O’Toolbox (@FintanOToolbox) April 17, 2020