A large fruit company has come under fire after it emerged that it brought 189 workers into the country to pick fruit during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cork North Central TD Thomas Gould (SF) said that Keelings should not have brought the seasonal workers from Bulgaria to carry out a strawberry harvest at the company’s Dublin facility.
“This is just flies in the face of everything we're trying to do to protect against the Covid crisis.
“I can’t believe when we’ve passed special legislation giving the gardaí a wide range of extreme powers that normally we would never consider, that we would allow almost 200 workers to come in from Bulgaria on the one flight.
“Normally there would be no problem with seasonal workers coming in but under the government’s strategy as part of the Covid-19 crisis, people are asked to stay at home and to stay within 2km of their homes, they’re being asked to social distance to reduce the risk of infection and yet this is happening.
“We have to make a decision of what’s the priority here and if picking strawberries is a bigger priority than protecting people and I don’t think it is, I think we could have done both.
Mr Gould said that he thinks the government should step in and that the workers should be returned home.
“I think the government needs to step in now to ban this. These workers should be returned home until the crisis is over.
“Keelings should be told to put out a call locally and nationally for workers. You have a lot of secondary school students, you’ve college students who might be finishing exams, you’ve other people who have lost their jobs and people willing to work for them.” Following widespread criticism, the company released a statement confirming that "a number of skilled horticulture staff have returned to Ireland to work with Keelings".
The company said that it would be impossible to bring fresh Irish strawberries to the market without the seasonal workers.
"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."
Keelings said it is following the HSE and Government guidelines including 14 days of restricted movement for any new arrivals in the country prior to starting work in Keelings.
"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,” the company said.