Dáil debates

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Adjournment Debate

Passport Applications.

5:00 pm

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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It is disturbing that the State, via the Department of Foreign Affairs, has facilitated a change of identity for a well-known drug trafficker. Who was involved in the cover-up in this case and how was it allowed to happen? I seek full and detailed particulars from the Passport Office and the Minister for Foreign Affairs as to the circumstances surrounding this issue.

I am reluctant to name persons outside the House but will do so in this case. Mr. Kieran Boylan has a string of convictions for drug trafficking and drug possession. Nevertheless, an international haulage licence was issued to him last September. Moreover, a passport has been issued to him in Irish by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Under the relevant legislation, there is a facility for the issuing of a passport in a name that is in a language other than the language in which it appears on the applicant's birth certificate. To my mind, however, the usage of Irish in this case has only one purpose - to avoid detection. After all, this is a wanted man, sought by Dutch police among others. Does he also happen to be a Gaelgóir of note? Is he an avid user of the Irish language or a native Irish speaker?

What checks were undertaken to affirm the love of the Irish language which inspired him to such a patriotic act? What references or recommendations were sought? Was the Garda or any appropriate person involved in the provision of information as to this man's proficiency in the Irish language? As I said, such changes are permitted under the Passports Act 2008, but evidence of use of name in Irish should have been sought. It is my understanding that a passport will issue in Irish only to those persons who can show they have been users of the language on a regular basis for a period of two years prior to their passport application.

Is it a regular occurrence that the Department of Foreign Affairs permits criminals to change their identity for the purposes of procuring documentation that would allow them to engage in international travel and perhaps international criminality? What checks were undertaken to ensure that this application was authentic? I understand the English version of the name can be maintained on the passport and, in this case, was entered as an observation. However, this was shown on a different page in the passport. If one flashes one's passport to a police officer, customs official or immigration official, there is nothing to show that one's name is also contained therein in English.

Did the Minister issue the passport under section 10(5) of the Passports Act 2008? Who processed the application and what is on file to show the appropriate checks took place? Did the passport officials know this man is a convicted criminal? What inquiries were made? If no inquiries were made, should they have been? Were any concerns raised by any party? What involvement had the Garda in this matter, whether local gardaí or otherwise? The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is involved in an investigation of the individual in question. Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs hand over the passport file to the commission to facilitate this inquiry? This person has, under his Irish name, an international haulage licence, driving licence, insurance documentation and now a passport. He was never known for proficiency in the Irish language and there is no evidence that he was a lover of the language.

A genuine passport which passes all checks has been issued. However, it was issued by the State to facilitate a completely new identity. Jason Bourne, the fictional character of "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Identity", would be proud of what the Department of Foreign Affairs has done in this case. It supplied this person with a completely new identity.

How can criminals be facilitated by the State in a change of name? I have questions for the Ministers for Transport and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I ask that this man's driving licence be immediately revoked. However, I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to deal with the matter of the passport. The law needs to be reviewed if international criminals of Irish origin can be fitted out with completely new identities. In this case, the Department not only facilitated the fraud, but was instrumental in it. The law needs to be reviewed.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased Deputy Flanagan raised this issue. However, I am not very pleased at the manner in which he characterises Irish passports because it does damage to all of us.

The fact that he has raised the issue gives me the opportunity, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, to provide the House with a full briefing and to demonstrate that nothing untoward happened in this case and that the law of the land was observed.

The person in question applied for a passport in the Irish form of his name on 12 January 2009. He submitted his previous passport in the English form of his name along with the necessary application. The application was correctly completed and witnessed in a Garda station.

It has been established by the courts that a person has a constitutional right to travel from this country. Article 41.3 of the Constitution specifically infers that. A person, therefore, has the right to a passport. This is, of course, not an unfettered right and a passport can be refused in certain very limited circumstances.

Section 12(1)(d) of the Passports Act 2008 requires the Minister to refuse to issue a passport where he or she has been notified by the Courts Service that a person is subject to a bail order. However, there was no notification concerning a bail order in this case and no such order was applicable at the time of the 2009 application. The question of previous criminal convictions had arisen in respect of previous passport applications by the person in question and these issues were resolved at the time of those applications.

Accordingly, having verified the applicant's identity and citizenship, having established that the application was correctly completed and appropriately witnessed and having verified that there was no record of a bail order in respect of the person in question, the Passport Office established that the gentleman was entitled to be issued with a passport.

I would like now to turn to the issue of a person's request for a passport to be issued in the Irish language form of his name. Before dealing with the specific request, it might be helpful if I were to outline the legislative position in this regard. Incidentally, proficiency in the Irish language is not a requirement, a fact which I suggest Deputy Flanagan is fully aware of, having read the Act.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Use, not proficiency.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Section 10 of the Passports Act provides, inter alia, that a passport "shall be in the name of the applicant as it appears on his or her certificate of birth (whether in the English language or the Irish language)". There are some exceptions to the general rule, as the Deputy has pointed out. Under section 10(2) a passport may be issued in a new name following a marriage. That did not arise in this case. Section 10(4) permits the issuing of a passport in a new name where an applicant provides satisfactory evidence of the use of the name over a period of at least two years prior to the application. Where satisfactory evidence is not provided, section 10(5) permits the Minister to issue a passport in the new name. However, in such cases, the name on the certificate of birth is entered as an observation on the passport and must remain there for at least two years.

Deputy Flanagan is quite right. The international form of passport, which is used in this and other countries, has an observation page, which is directly across from the passport entry. Deputy Flanagan knows this and he is demonstrating this by lifting a piece of paper and showing it to the House. That observation must remain on the passport for at least two years. Including an observation helps to avoid difficulties which may arise, for example, where a person is applying for visas or work permits abroad. Although inclusion is optional for applicants who provide the required two years evidence of usage, it is a requirement in the case of applicants where such evidence is not provided. That is why the observation was entered on this man's passport in the manner it was. This is in accordance with international passport arrangements throughout the European Union and in many other countries.

In this case, the applicant provided ten documents issued to him in the Irish form of his name as evidence of usage. He presented a driving licence which, as the Deputy has said, had been issued in December 2008.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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A month beforehand.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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That is quite correct. There is nothing wrong with Deputy Flanagan's mathematics. Second, he presented six receipts for dental surgery, two of which dated from as far back as 2005. Third, he presented a letter dated 2009 from a firm of accountants and tax consultants which said he was known to them and that they had handled his business for the previous five years. He submitted a certificate of registration of business name dated from October 2008 and a bank statement dated January 2007.

Notwithstanding this, the Passport Office took the view that because much of the evidence of usage was of recent origin, in accordance with section 10(5), an observation would be entered on the passport. A member of staff spoke to the applicant and advised him of this. The passport was issued in the Irish form of his name but the observation showing his name at birth was entered on the page facing the data page of the passport. This entry would be clearly visible to any person inspecting the details of the new passport. In fact, it is regarded as a disadvantage to have such an observation on a passport because it raises questions about the passport holder.

Every passport applicant has a unique holder number on the Passport Office database. This enables the Passport Office, in examining passport applications, to track applicants' previous history. In line with standard procedures, both Irish and English forms of this applicant's name are entered on the database under his unique holder number.

I am, therefore, satisfied that the processing of this passport application complied fully with the requirements of the Passports Act 2008.