Thursday, 19 December 2002
Adjournment Matters. - Investment Based Naturalisation Scheme.
Feargal Quinn (Independent)
I tabled this matter because some years ago I began to have nightmares. These were not serious, but they did recur. I dreamed of arriving at passport control in some foreign country and the immigration officer saying: "Oh, it is one of those" when he saw my Irish passport. I hope that will never happen. I do not wish to rake up the past, but rather to copperfasten the future. In recent replies to parliamentary questions the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has comprehensively outlined the history of the passports for sale scheme. He has also published the findings of a departmental inquiry into its workings.
I welcome the Minister's uncompromising opposition to the sale of passports and his guarantee that no such scheme will ever be re-introduced as long as he is in office. Unfortunately, that does not put my mind at rest because my uneasiness arises from the basis on which the passports for sale scheme was introduced and continued for several years under different Governments.
The scheme was apparently perfectly legal in that it broke no law, but the basis for it was not set down either in the form of legislation or a ministerial order. It worked entirely within the scope of the discretion available to the Minister of the day under the nationality and citizenship legislation. It came into being with an informality that is quite staggering, particularly in view of the importance of the issues involved. There seemed to have been no rules governing the scheme at all. A number of unofficial rules were applied later, but these made no difference. It is a matter of record that little or no effort was made to keep to those rules or to discover whether they were being observed. This position continues to obtain many years later. I understand it would be open to any future Minister to set up a similar scheme on a similarly informal basis.
Despite our experience in the meantime, there is apparently still nothing in law to prevent the same thing happening again. I am totally opposed to the selling of Irish passports, but I recognise that there is another view on this matter and also that circumstances may arise in the future when our economic position could be so desperate that we would wish to leave open the possibility of selling our birthright in this way. I cannot accept that we would deliberately leave a loophole in our legislation that would permit any future Government to introduce a scheme that would operate in such an informal manner as heretofore. We are all aware of the unfortunate consequences and none of us wish to see them repeated.
I am delighted by the Minister's goodwill in respect of this matter. However, I would prefer to rely on legislation. We cannot bind the decisions of a future Government, but we can put a legal framework in place that will require anyone introducing such a scheme to do so only on a statutory basis. The latter must have built into it the need for openness, transparency and accountability that history teaches us is all too necessary, particularly in respect of this issue. I urge the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consider the introduction of legislation to bring this about.