State criticised over sham marriages
The Council of Europe has criticised Ireland for its “lack of co-operation” in identifying and assisting Latvian nationals who are trafficked into the State for the purpose of sham marriages.
A report published yesterday by the council found that Ireland, along with the UK, Cyprus and Greece, is one of the primary destinations for human traffic from Latvia.
In particular it pointed to an increase in the number of marriages of convenience taking place in Ireland between Latvian citizens and nationals from non-EU countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
The sole aim of such marriages, the report states, is to allow non-EU nationals to circumvent the rules on entry and residence in order to secure a residence permit.
The report was compiled following visits by the Council of Europe’s human trafficking monitoring group, Greta (Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings) to both countries.
The group is charged with monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe’s convention on human trafficking.
The findings refocus attention on Ireland’s laws regarding such marriages of convenience. In April 2011 the High Court found that gardaí had no power to stop non-EU citizens entering into a marriage of convenience for immigration purposes.
Latvia has previously recommended that Ireland amend its anti-trafficking legislation so as to include sham marriage as a form of exploitation.
Latvia has changed its own anti-trafficking laws, introducing a maximum three-year prison sentence.
However, the council’s report urged Riga to introduce more preventive measures to combat trafficking such as the registration of all children at birth.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said the issue was “of particular concern to the immigration authorities”.
However, the fundamental right of free movement within the EU, together with strong constitutional protections for the institution of marriage, meant there was no simple solution to the problem, she added.
Bill before Dáil
The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010, which includes amendments to strengthen Ireland’s capacity to deal with immigration abuse through marriage of convenience, is currently before the Dáil and the Seanad.
The Garda National Immigration Bureau is also working closely with marriage registrars in relation to any evidence of criminality associated with marriages of convenience, such as the use of fraudulent documentation, she added.
The Council of Europe is an international organisation that promotes European co-operation, particularly in the field of human rights and democracy. It has 47 member countries.