An Aer Lingus worker who helped to smuggle illegal immigrants through Dublin Airport has been sentenced to four years in jail.

Frederick Cham, 63, from Hazelhatch in Co Kildare, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to nine charges relating to the illegal entry of seven people into the country.

The offences took place in December 2016 and January 2017.

The court heard Cham and another Aer Lingus worker helped people avoid passport control by taking them into a staff lift and providing them with Aer Lingus branded hi-visibility jackets before driving them away in a catering van.

After his arrest, he denied his activities were part of organised crime and said it was "a little bit of fast cash to get by".

He also described it as a "Mickey Mouse operation" and "money for pints".

He pleaded guilty to charges involving the illegal entry of seven people into the State and receiving more than €6,000 in proceeds of crime.

Judge Martin Nolan said it was a serious and devious crime that required a substantial sentence.

The judge said Cham had used his knowledge of the airport to commit the crimes.

He said: "I can infer that he was at the lower end of a smuggling operation, the people who were coming here were desperate to get into Ireland, which could be used as a transit point to other countries. It was invaluable to these people to get into Ireland and avoid immigration authorities."

The judge said it was obvious that Cham's knowledge of the airport and his ability to get people through was valuable knowledge as he was paid by others to help smuggle people through.

He said the mitigating factors in the case were his guilty plea and the fact that he was clearly a very hard working man with no previous convictions.

At a sentence hearing yesterday, Inspector Michael Buckley from the Garda National Immigration Bureau told the court that on 10 January 2017, they became aware that a man had tried to board a flight from Dublin to the UK but was refused because he had a false passport.

It emerged that he had arrived the previous day on a flight from Madrid and had managed to circumvent immigration.

An examination of CCTV showed that he had been met by another Aer Lingus staff member who took him into a staff lift after meeting Cham.

When they emerged from the lift all three were wearing Aer Lingus hi-viz jackets. The man was then driven away by Cham in a back of a catering van.

When he tried to board a flight the following day to the UK he was prevented and was sent back to Madrid.

A garda investigation was put in place and gardaí discovered the same man returned to Ireland from Madrid later the same month and was arrested along with Cham and another employee as they got into a car.

During his garda interviews, Cham made immediate admissions and told gardai it was "just a bit of fast cash".

He said it was a "Mickey Mouse operation", "just money for pints", adding: "It was like telling a rat, there's a little hole, out you go."

He told gardaí it was not organised crime and he had been dealing with someone in China who knew he worked in the airport.

Inspector Buckley told the court he would not agree with this statement. 

The court was told Cham had moved to Ireland in the early 2000s and began working at Dublin Airport in 2003. He had been working as a ground handler for Aer Lingus since 2008.

Defence Counsel Sean Gillane told the court that Cham had cooperated fully with gardaí and had provided them with information that could have taken huge resources to uncover.

Following sentence, Mr Gillane said his client would like to publicly apologise for his crimes.