Fruit Of The Loon [Updated]

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Dr Colm Henry and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan speaking at the daily Department of Health’s Covid-19 press briefing

This evening.

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.

Via Keelings



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.’

Statement From Keelings (Keelings)






Good times.

127 thoughts on “Fruit Of The Loon [Updated]

  1. Rob_G

    I have no objection to people from Bulgaria or anywhere else coming to Ireland to work and to contribute to the economy in normal times, but given the current situation, this doesn’t make sense – surely the Dept of Social Welfare should pick 189 names from the social welfare rolls who are (i) living in north county Dublin, and (ii) have been on the dole longer than 3 months, and send them all letters congratulating them on having found employment in the agri-food sector.

        1. Dilbert

          And every business sacrificing their futures and we hear this
          Why oh why are these flights arriving
          Maybe just let the flood gates open and it’s survival of the fittest

          I have lost tens of thousands from not owning and did this to help stop this virus
          Many are putting their lives on the line to stop this virus and for what punnets of strawberries

      1. Dilbert

        so what matters more the survival of Keelings or the survival of our people or the survival of our airports and carriers

    1. Hansel

      When you follow down that twitter feed you’ll find many people who believe very strongly in their “personal choice” not to work. On a serious note I realise you’re messing but you can’t force people to do jobs they don’t want to do.

      But flying people in doesn’t sit well with me either. Why are so few Irish people interested? Surely an awful lot of students in particular should be available for work right now?

      1. Janet, I ate my avatar

        if you called it a national emergency and asked for volunteers to do it I’d say you’d get them, keeping Ireland fed etc, a national effort, look how many volunteers the health services got

        1. George

          The UK tried this but they had still brought in tens of thousands of workers from Romania. These people are needed to do essential work producing food. They are travelling from a lower risk country to a higher risk country. They are not on holiday and are here for an extended period of time. They will be quarantined for14 days before working. There is no particular health risk from this.

          1. Hansel

            I don’t consider them a health risk George, I’m uncomfortable with businesses requiring low-paid people to travel the width of a continent to do seasonal work.

            I don’t object to their right to be here, I’m just concerned that it has to be this way.

          2. George

            How do you know what the pay is? And why would it be better for this work to be done by volunteers? How is that less exploitative that paid and experienced EU workers?
            Just saying Ireland is different doesn’t actually prove things would be any different at all.

          3. Some old queen

            @ George- we know what the pay should be which is at least minimum wage except most of the agri-industry do not even pay that- in other words they break the law and the immigrants put up with it, because they feel they have no choice.

            Also near all have a rule that you must live on site- which is a round about way of excluding Irish people.

        2. julie Lordan

          Keelings is a private business. Profit is the end goal. So, why should their problems be called a ‘national emergency’ and propped up by ‘volunteers’.? If the State see it that way then by all means they could take over the company, employ people safely and pay them a living wage.

          1. George

            Volunteers would not last long doing that kind of work. Also would be travelling from various places and returning home increasing the risk of the virus spreading. The migrant workers will be housed locally and won’t be at risk of bringing the virus home to their families.

      2. Rob_G

        I’m not messing; in order to claim JSB/JSA, you have to be actively seeking employment. If there are any unemployed people living within easy commuting distance of Keelings’ farm who were offered these jobs via DSW and refused them – well, then they clearly aren’t ‘actively seeking employment’, and they should be taken off their social welfare payment.

        1. Janet, I ate my avatar

          I’m trying to think of the kind of mindset that thinks forced labour is ok, it’s on the tip of my tongue,
          you do realize people pay high taxes when they work to insure a safety net is there for them between employment ? suitable employment suiting their qualifications,
          not everyone on the dole is a scrounger getting a free ride

          1. Rob_G

            The social welfare system already has procedures in place to oblige people to take jobs; unfortunately there is a (very small) cohort of people who would never work otherwise.

            “… suitable employment suiting their qualifications”
            – Exhibit A of ‘Irish people thinking that they are too good for certain jobs’

            It’s great to find a job that perfectly suits one’s skills and experience, but if one has been claiming the dole for 6 months and has been unable to find such a job, they should be sent to work doing one of the many jobs that, while they may not suit them 100%, are available.

          2. Janet, I ate my avatar

            and btw I have done lots of ” inappropriate ” jobs between my real gigs, so I’m not of the thinking I’m too good for any job mind set, few people are in real life Rob

          3. Rob_G

            as per my point below: the fact that there are unemployed Irish people, and yet gainfully-employed foreigners who face many linguistic/legal hoops to work in this country, indicates that there are plenty of people who consider themselves too good to work at certain jobs.

        2. Hansel

          Rob, if they don’t actively want the job, they’ll do it badly, or leave at the soonest opportunity. Many people looking for a job wouldn’t be able for this type of physical labour, but would be very good at other work. This job would not be great for a 50 year old desk-jockey for instance. Or maybe someone with hayfever.

          Putting a highly-trained person picking fruit will also cause problems when that highly-trained person becomes in demand in their own industry again. You’re back to needing fruit pickers.

          So it needs to both be people reasonably suited for the job and who want the job. Any “mandatory” effort would fail. This is completely aside from any “ethics” issues, which I’m not even going to discuss.

          This type of work was always great for students when I was younger. Why has that dried up?
          It’s the original reason children were given summer holidays from school! Flying people in from Bulgaria to pick fruit…this shouldn’t be necessary. Especially when all the schools are off.

        3. Cian (the other one)

          I’m sure Keelings would be over the moon to get a large number of people here because they’re worried about their social welfare being cut off, and thus super motivated to do a great job.

        4. Matt Pilates

          Don’t you have expenses to claim for the food delivered daily by that nice Deliveroo chap from abroad now that the Dublin office is closed?

          Sounds like you’re not actively employed …. no customers these days? Fancy….

  2. Niamh

    Irish people ‘won’t do the work’ because it’s paid so badly nobody could subsist on it here. They fly in workers from countries in which the money goes further, creating an incentive to come here and do the work – which is understandable, but this whole ‘Irish people are lazy and won’t do the work’ crap is classist nonsense wrapped up in faux-concern for ‘racism’. The whole operation is an example of global exploitation keeping wages low. There are complex reasons for this (local growers have to compete with cheap imports) but these also pertain to global exploitation and the use of cheap labour, an argument the Left trips itself up over because it’s paranoid about seeming racist.

    Nothing wrong with Bulgarians coming here to work. Everything wrong with a world economy that dresses this kind of thing up as progressive. It’s not.

    1. Rob_G

      I don’t think that this argument holds up when you consider that (pre-COVID, obvs) there were Chinese lads working in SPAR with only a minimal command of English & no formally recognised qualifications, while at the same time there were Irish people, native English-speakers, some of whom have a Bachelors or even a Masters, claiming the dole.

      1. ReproBertie

        Did you never apply for a job and be rejected because you were over-qualified Rob? It’s very frustrating when all you want to do is work but it happens.

          1. ReproBertie

            Well then you can understand why some Chinese language students are working in Spar while Irish people with Bachelors or Masters are stuck on the dole.

          2. Rob_G

            I do. I’m not sure what conclusion you drew from this phenomenon; the conclusion that I drew, personally, was that it the SW is too generous, and it is too easy for people to sit on their behinds watching the free money come in every month waiting for their dream job; the SW system should oblige them instead to take jobs that they currently people seem to think they are too good/over-qualified/etc for.

          3. Janet, I ate my avatar

            do you benifit financially from that travesty of human rights that we call Jobpath

          4. some old queen

            If you are over qualified Rob it is near always the employer who decides not to take you on. And the reason is that they think you won’t stay, which you won’t of course- likewise experience.

          5. Rob_G

            @soq – in the context of the jobs at keelings, this would matter little, as it is seasonal work that only takes place over a couple of months. One of the problems with current system of SW is that it leads to welfare traps – people won’t take on short-term paid work as they are worried it will affect their SW entitlement- this should be changed.

          6. Rob_G

            And anyway, to address Repro’s original point – there are plenty of Irish people on the dole who don’t have the problem of being over-qualified, but who still have the advantage of being native-speakers, no issues with visas, etc, and still they are unemployed, whereas some nice young man/lady from China or Brazil can come over here and, with neither of those advantages, still manage to find a job.

            Something isn’t working properly.

          7. Matt Pilates

            Just look at the mediocrity of IT hiring in this country: Hubspot, Facebook, Google, … even Bulgarian fruit pickers could be a Customer Success Manager down the docks…

    2. ReproBertie

      Exactly right Niamh.

      As an aside I don’t understand how people can say that complaining about these people coming over is racism and at the same time say Irish people are too lazy to do this work.

    3. George

      Many people already work minimum wage jobs so that can’t be it. And we don’t know if these are minimum wage or not.

          1. Janet, I ate my avatar

            EEA nationals with ‘jobseeker’ residency status can claim income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance for up to six months. You will have a Genuine Prospect of Work assessment after three months. EEA nationals with ‘retained worker’ residency status can claim income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance for up to nine months….so the key there is residency,
            does Keeling provide pernament residency or temporary for the duration of the gathering, I’d guess the latter

  3. Orla

    There is plenty of this ongoing, it’s selective essential services ,the legislation in acted is a joke.
    Ryan tubridy and the late late show is still ongoing with guests and full studio staffing and not a peep from anyone ,it’s like the TV world isn’t real for some like the willy wonky tv boy.

    How is TUbs and his full studio staff essential services compared to raspberry pickers ?
    It’s all a ‘cherry picked ” joke this legislation, we could be having payouts to people prosecuted under this legislation when this dies ,the tax payer will pay for that also.

    People are being imprisoned for a month for being 2km from their homes but not late late guest so if your caught outside just say your a guest on the late late.

    1. Hansel

      Fairly certain the raspberry pickers are essential service Orla.
      I know lots of people currently deemed “essential services” who are food industry workers of every position and pay grade.

      Oh I think I misunderstood your point: you’re complaining about Tubs etc? This I don’t know. Maybe they’re getting through on a technicality that they’re “journalism”. It’s quite a stretch.

    2. ReproBertie

      Brendan Gleeson made a point of saying that he had garda permission to travel for the LLS. There’s no studio audience and there’s social distancing between the guests. With everyone locked up TV for news and entertainment is an essential service.

      1. Hansel

        It’s borderline though ReproBertie.
        I’m not resentful, but this is like off-licences, we’re talking about jobs which “make life bearable” here, rather than truly “the bare minimum necessary”.

          1. Hansel

            Certainly the fruit pickers are considered essential George.
            I know many essential workers in food production.
            Very high demand at the moment. 20-30% above peak.

        1. ReproBertie

          It’s under the essential services list as published by the government.

          Information and Communications

          the publishing of newspapers, journals and periodicals as well as video, television programme production, sound recording, radio and television broadcasting; wired and satellite and telecommunications activities; internet and cloud providers; data centres and related services

          1. Hansel

            Agreed, and on reflection I think it needed to be this way, “to hold the state to account” as much as possible.

          2. Aislinn

            Is an entertainment talk show essential though? Keep in mind the late late show can’t be run with 5 staff,it’s a small army to be fair.
            I’m not an all out authoritarian who wants these measures personally but at least the state broadcaster could show consistency ,Leo and Harris just don’t have it as politicians,it’s a cringe fest at this point to observe the empty vessels in action,the rest of us pay for this crap with social unrest.

            Other talk shows are doing interviews via video link,said shows have a far bigger following than the late late ireland.

            I think it’s important for media to hold the state to account that’s why the news and the like I’ve no issue with but when tubs and his guests can travel more than 2km for a chinwag it does appear slightly elitist and hypocritical when folks are currently locked up for driving more than 2km from their home.
            RTÉ tubs and the like wonder why they get so much vitriol on social media……

          3. ReproBertie

            Again, the only guest I saw reference the travel clearly stated that he had garda permission to do so. The gardaí obviously believed it was essential enough to grant permission.

  4. Brother Barnabas

    keelings used to advertise that their strawberries were picked at dawn by young virgins and ripened in their vaginal cavities – hence justifying €4.99 for 8-10 strawberries.

    this obviously wasnt true

    1. Janet, I ate my avatar

      if you put green tomatoes in your underwear drawer they will blush to a lovely red in no time

          1. Janet, I ate my avatar

            well I have no underwear, but I have some lingerie if you fancy a root through

    2. Nigel

      Probably because nobody would believe it if they said it was because they paid their fruit pickers a fair wage?

      (NB – I have no idea if they pay their fruit pickers a fair wage.)

  5. some old queen

    Is strawberrys an essential food mind? Not in my world. What this proves is that the EU is NOT about the free movement of people but rather, the free movement of labour.

    This story arose because a RyanAir employee complained about the lack of social distancing on the plane and that the staff were being put at undue risk- one for O’Leary to answer I think.

      1. Janet, I ate my avatar

        if you squeeze a lemon over freshly chopped strawberries and sprinkle with brown sugar and allow to macerate, you will never again question if they are essential

    1. Rob_G

      I don’t think that we are at the stage where the govt should decide what is essential food and what isn’t: coffee, tea, chocolate, spices, etc – none of these things are ‘essential’, either, but I think people would be ticked off if forced to subsist on unseasoned potatoes and beans for the next two months.

        1. Rob_G

          Cleaning toilets, in a hospital or indeed any place else, is a great example of a very important job that no-one would do if people were allowed to sit on the dole indefinitely and turn down jobs that they didn’t want to do.

          1. Janet, I ate my avatar

            so you believe the only people doing that are people who have been kicked off the dole ? very revealing

          2. Hansel

            I’ve been a cleaner.
            I had the luxury of choosing to do the job.
            Yes I cleaned toilets, among other things.

            People very close to me are cleaners. It’s an honest job. I actually find your phrase “no-one would do it if people were allowed to sit on the dole indefinitely” insulting. They/we’re not doing the job because they’re not entitled to the dole Rob.

            I’m not sure what to say to you other than – again – it’s insulting.

            It sounds like you think it’s beneath you or something. A job you wouldn’t “want” to do.

            Cleaning someone’s butt isn’t something you dream of when you’re a child either, but being a carer has an awful lot more dignity than a lot of white collar work. God bless those people.

          3. Rob_G

            @ Hansel – that’s not what I was saying; janet asked me if I think it’s ok to ‘force them to clean Jack’s or pick fruit” – I don’t see any problem with either of these jobs. But apparently there are lots of Irish people who do, as there are Irish people on the dole, and yet we generally have to import people from abroad to pick our fruit or clean our offices – this does not compute.

            These two jobs are perfect examples of jobs that Irish people seem to think they are too good for, as they would sit on the dole than work at either of them. So yes, for these jobs, I do think that we should force otherwise unoccupied Irish people to do them, as they don’t seem willing to take them otherwise.

          4. Rob_G

            @janet – ok

            Every social welfare system in the world “forces” people to prove they are looking for jobs, and penalties if they turn down x number of work placements, etc. While most people have a good work ethic and will be keen to work a living, unfortunately there is a small % of people who would only be too happy not to work a day in their lives, and any attempt that case officers will make to get them to do an honest day’s work would amount to forcing them.

          5. Janet, I ate my avatar

            so maybe we should stop wasting additional resources on them, let that tiny percent scrape an existence, because that’s all you can do on the dole,
            when you force these people into jobs it wastes the employers time, force them onto ETB classes, they take a space that could be used by someone who actually wants to gain a skill set, not to mention probably disrupting the class and wasting the teachers time too,
            maybe that minority is the price we pay for having a functioning social system which in the end benifits us all

  6. some old queen

    When these agri employers say that the incoming people will be quarantined- are they ever asked for proof? Six to a 30 year old caravan is not quarantine.

    Also, during this quarantine period, would the employer not have a responsibility to pay minimum wage?

  7. Matt Pilates

    What a shame all the Irish people who could be out volunteering to pick fruit as part of a national effort are too busy tut-tutting on here, the journal, and on Twitter about the Irish unemployment stats. Rhubarb merchants.

    1. Daisy Chainsaw

      Why aren’t those loyal Ireland belongs to the Irish “patriots” organising among themselves to do the patriotic work of keeping Irish people fed with Irish food by volunteering to pick the Irish fruit and veg instead?

      Everyone seems to expect someone else to do it, maybe those so concerned about it being done by foreigners should first spend a month doing it themselves?

      1. some old queen

        Why do those left wingers argue that the agri-industry’s
        exploitation of poor white Europeans by Irish capitalists is racist?

        Have you even seen the conditions some of these people are forced to live in? I have.

  8. Gay Fawkes

    Keeling should say how much they are paying these people per hour. If it’s minimum wage there definitely wouldn’t be a shortage of workers here willing to do it. If it’s below minimum wage people should boycott their produce.

  9. Frank

    an argument put forward by FG for their abject failure to provide affordable (ha) housing use to be… ‘but who will build them?’. that line was peddled hard in recent years.
    well zippy doo da day! their mates in Keelings has shown us what can be achieved with slave labour. I’d say Bulgaria is coming down with builders they could fly over to build our dream homes and better still… they’re cheap as chips

  10. Matt Pilates

    Dr. Tony Holohan CMO to a question about the Keelings fruit workers.

    The chartering of flights to bring workers into Ireland is “not consistent with public health advice”.

    That’s good enough for me.

  11. Cathal

    This was a breach of lockdown, lots of people have twisted it into a racist thing which it isn’t. Keeling breached lockdown , owners do 28 days in Mount Joy, simple, same rules for every one

  12. Gabby

    Are we prepared to pay higher prices for punnets of ripe strawberries come July and August? Are we prepared to pay higher prices for packets of tea a coffee? So that the strawberry pickers and the coffee and tea pickers may get higher wages? In the tea and coffee market consumers can choose to buy Fairtrade packets. Maybe in the international fruit market Fairtrade bananas, strawberries and grapes can be introduced.

  13. sparkilicious

    Broadsheet hand wringing at level 11.
    Irish people do not want to do this work.
    These people are ‘professional’ fruit pickers and so are… good at what they do.
    We have a minimum wage in this country.
    Keelings have said they will be quarantined for 14 days.
    In any event they will be working in big spaces in north county Dublin.
    Good food will rot if these people don’t work.
    Calm the poo down.

    1. some old queen

      The agri payments is usually piecemeal meaning by work done but- BY LAW that must be topped up if it is under the hours worked by minimum wage hourly rate. Irish people know this- a lot of migrants do not.

      THAT is the core reason why a lot of these outfits will not employ Irish people because they will be challenged when they pull a fast one, which they will do, regularly.

      But just in case you have forgotten, there is a dangerous virus in circulation and there are plenty watching their businesses go to the wall. The guards are harassing people like they were the gestapo and yet, a plane packed so full it could not have possibly complied with basic social distancing arrives.

      So for some peculiar reason, those of us under near house arrest are somehow over reacting? No we are not- we are simply asking why it is one rule for some and another for the rest.

  14. Dr.Fart

    twitter is rife with people shouting “racism” to people annoyed about bringing in 189 people like this. it’s not what people are complaining about, people are complainging that they brought them in all crowded on top of each other, potentially adding a spike in cases when we are doing our best. people are angry because they’ve stayed at home for a month, and then keelings just mash thru a huge crowd of untested people in.

  15. Kingfisher

    Looking at the video, the Bulgarians coming in appear to be social-distancing in a disciplined way. As for the work, if they’re skilled, if the wages are decent, if they have accommodation where they’re social-distanced and working conditions too, what’s the problem? Keelings advertised for Irish workers and got a sixth of the people they need. Not to mention all the years that all our kids have gone abroad fruit picking, by the way.


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