Dublin Live

Footage of the passengers arriving to Dublin Airport emerged on social media this evening sparking outrage

A north Dublin fruit company has come under fire after it chartered a flight from Bulgaria carrying dozens of strawberry pickers during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Ryanair flight arrived from the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Monday, April 13 carrying what the company say are “skilled horticultural staff”.

Footage of the passengers arriving to Dublin Airport emerged on social media this evening sparking outrage.

Many slamming it as a “disgrace” that the workers were allowed to enter the country while lockdown restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the deadly virus.

Other questioned why Irish workers who lost their jobs due to the global pandemic could not have been offered the roles.

Meath County Councillor Alan Lawes revealed yesterday he had been provided with details of the flight and questioned how social distancing could be observed on the plane.

A Ryanair spokeswoman said: “This was a charter flight for a private company. Ryanair complied with all regulations set out by EASA and WHO on these special flights.”

Local TD Paul McAuliffe said that members of the public had contacted him with real concern at the images that were circulating online.

“These workers have all clearly traveled more than the 2kms from their home and while the work they carry out may be deemed to be essential, I do not believe that it was essential during this crisis to move such a large number of people more than 2km and across the continent.

“I am calling on the company to issue a far more detailed statement outlining the precise measures which have been taken to protect the workers and those in our community.

“I simply do not believe that this measure was necessary to save the fruit crops from spoiling.

“Given the historically high level of local unemployment, the desire by many people to be active and the national spirit to work together, it was not beyond the companies ability to harvest their crop in another way.

Another concerned reader contacted Dublin Live saying the move “makes a complete mockery of this lockdown”.

Keelings released a statement this evening confirming that the company had flown in the seasonal staff and that they would “not be asked to work without a full 14 days restricted movement”.

The company added it was also recruiting local workers to pick crops on its farm along with other roles within the business.

The statement added: “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.

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