Wednesday, 27 February 2002
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Quinn: I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to inform the House of the outcome of his review of the scheme for naturalisation arising from an investigation instituted by him in September 1997 and which he informed the House on 4 March 1998 would shortly be determined by the Government. In March 1998, the House debated the subject of what is now termed the passports for sale scheme. I suggested then that the practice of offering Irish citizenship in return for an investment in an Irish business was no longer acceptable and I received widespread support for my views.
The scheme reflected no credit on those involved, the country or its reputation abroad. During the debate in the House in March 1998, we were led to believe that the passports for sale scheme had been closed. The Minister told the House that on taking office, the Government had effectively put a stop to the scheme and had instigated a full review of the matter in September 1997. He said he expected to bring the results of the review to the Government imminently and we were given the impression that it would be done within a matter of weeks.
I am a very trusting person by nature and I assumed it would be the last we would ever hear of Irish passports for sale. However, on a number of occasions in the past four years we have seen press reports which hinted in some form that the practice was still going on. The latest report, which appeared last Saturday in The Irish Times, referred to a number of passports being issued to members of the very wealthy Getty family in return for an investment in an Irish business. These passports seem to have been issued in 1998, at a time when we had been led to believe that the scheme was a thing of the past.
Obviously it is high time to bring this matter into the open and to clear up matters once and for all. Has the passports for sale scheme definitely and permanently been ended? If it has, will the Minister of State give us the date the last passport was issued under the scheme? Will she outline the procedures in place to prevent a resurrection of this scheme at any time in the future? Is legislation planned to give statutory effect to this prohibition and if not, why? If it is the case that the scheme has not been definitely and permanently ended, the Minister of State has a raft of questions to answer. I await the elucidation of the situation with great interest.
On 4 March 1998 Senator Quinn put down a motion in this House calling on the Government to introduce legislation to outlaw the issue of Irish passports as a quid pro quo for investment in Irish enterprises. During the course of the debate on that motion, the Minister indicated that he could not accept the motion at a stage when the Government had yet to take decisions on a review which had been made of the scheme. He indicated that to accept the motion in the form in which it was tabled would have been premature and that he preferred to await the Government's consideration of the matter without attempting to prejudge the outcome. He also stated that if the Government decided in due course that the scheme was not to be operated in the future, he saw no need for legislation to implement such a decision.
The outcome of the Minister's review of the scheme was presented to Government in the form of an aide memoire on 20 April 1998. As Senators will be aware, it is not the practice to publish formal ministerial submissions to Government. However, in the interests of transparency he made available for circulation in the Official Report of 25 June 1998 the substance of what emerged from the review of the scheme, together with all the statistical and other information which was appended to the aide memoire. It has been widely circulated since that date.
The review, which focused on the operation of the scheme since its introduction, was advocated by successive Ministers for Industry and Commerce in the 1980s. It concluded that the scheme as constituted should not be re-established; failure to re-establish the scheme would not affect the situation of any wealthy individuals who wish to live in Ireland, perhaps invest in business and apply for naturalisation under existing law; and in light of legitimate expectations of those involved and the interests of those employed in the entities concerned, applications accepted for processing by the previous Government should be processed to finality.
Following consideration of the review, the Government abolished the scheme with effect from 20 April 1998 with outstanding applications which were made in statutory form before 4 September 1996, that being the date on which the scheme was suspended by the previous Government, to be processed to finality. In addition and without prejudice to the decision to abolish the scheme, the Government decided that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should initiate a separate review of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, to see how it might facilitate investment and if in the course of that  review information emerged which would warrant additional legislative measures, he should consider that. The focus of this separate review therefore was to be prospective, although it would of course have to base its recommendations, in part at least, on experience gleaned from operation of the scheme to date.
To assist him in conducting the review, the Minister established a review group, comprising representatives of his Department, which chaired the group, the Departments of Finance, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Foreign Affairs, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland together with two outside experts.
The Minister's stated position on a number of occasions in this matter is that the scheme stands abolished and he has no plans to reintroduce it. Senators will be aware that the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 2001, which was enacted on 6 June 2001, made extensive changes to Irish citizenship law as enunciated in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts, 1956 to 1994, but did not contain provisions which might further facilitate investment. Clearly the Minister does not intend to revisit the issue of investment based naturalisation in the context of legislative change.
The report of the review group has been circulated to relevant Departments with a view to its submission to Government. As the Minister has stated publicly on numerous occasions, once the report has been considered by Government, he will arrange for its publication.
Since coming into office, the Minister has naturalised 14 investors, as well as 23 spouses and minor children of investors who had previously been naturalised, bringing the total naturalised under the scheme to 178, including 71 spouses and minor children. It has been the practice of Ministers to accept applications for naturalisation of spouses and minor children of investors once an interval has elapsed following the investor's naturalisation and the Minister has continued with this practice. Of the 14 investors naturalised by the Minister, 11 had submitted applications prior to 4 September 1996, when the scheme was suspended by the previous Government. The remaining three applications were accepted by the previous Government for exceptional reasons after the scheme had been suspended.
The substance of the review to which the motion refers was published in the Official Report of 25 June 1998 and has been widely publicised. The Minister has accepted no new applications from investors for naturalisation under the investment based scheme since his appointment; and the report of the second review group has been circulated to Departments with a view to its submission to Government and publication thereafter.
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