High Court challenges brought by rugby club and church group refused access to ‘golden visa’ scheme funds

Scrapped Immigrant Investor Programme allowed non-EU foreign nationals investing large sums in projects to get visas to reside in Ireland

The Minister for Justice is facing several High Court challenges from bodies claiming their bids for inclusion in the now-defunct Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) were wrongly rejected.

The “golden visa” scheme allowed non-EU foreign nationals who invested large sums of money in various projects to secure visas allowing them to reside in Ireland. The Government scrapped it abruptly in 2023.

Challenges before the court on Monday are the latest High Court actions to be brought by applicants who lodged their applications with the Minister before the IIP was discontinued and who were not included in the scheme.

Naas Rugby Football Club and representatives of a Christian group called “The Church on the Main Street CLG” have brought separate, but similar, judicial review actions against the Minister.

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The court on Monday heard that “The Church on Main Street” had secured an investor under the IIP to help it purchase and renovate a Naas property known as the Dara Cinema, which it uses as a foodbank and drop-in centre.

Naas Rugby Football Club obtained an investor so it could upgrade its dressing rooms, construct a new 4G pitch, and develop space for mixed-ability and mini-rugby groups to use.

Their investors were prepared to invest a minimum of €400,000 as a philanthropic donation to what were known as endowment projects, that benefit areas including arts, sports or education in Ireland.

However the applicants were informed by the Minister that their projects were not deemed eligible for consideration. In order to qualify, the proposed investors must be new investors rather than investors connected to other projects, the applicants were informed.

The Minister also said the IIP’s criteria regarding the transfer of investors had not been complied with by the applicants.

The applicants claim the Minister’s refusals are invalid and what they submitted is in accordance with the IPP’s rules. They claim that, under the programme, endowment projects were established in a way that allowed investors to be added to projects, and they could also change to and from different projects.

They claim the decision breaches their legitimate expectations that their applications would be accepted. The Minister’s decision is unreasonable, irrational, in breach of fair procedures and natural justice, they allege. They further claim the Minister has not given proper reasons for rejecting their applications.

In their proceedings against the Minister, the applicants, represented by Conor Power SC and Denis Collins, seek orders quashing the refusal to accept the applications under the IIP.

They also seek declarations that the Minister has acted unlawfully in refusing to accept their applications. They further seek orders directing the Minister to reconsider their applications.

The cases came before Ms Justice Niamh Hyland, who granted the bodies permission to bring their challenges on an ex-parte basis (only one side was represented). The judge adjourned the actions to a date later this month.