Gardaí object to 57 suspected 'sham' marriages


GARDAÍ HAVE objected to 57 marriages in the last nine months as part of an ongoing operation to combat “sham” marriages aimed at circumventing immigration law.

They are investigating allegations of false imprisonment and rape from several women who were lured to the Republic by men promising jobs who subsequently pressured them to get married.

Chief Supt John O’Driscoll of the Garda National Immigration Bureau said yesterday many cases involved vulnerable young women, recruited particularly from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. “We have made 16 arrests so far as part of Operation Charity, which includes nine people who were removed from the State because they were here illegally. A further seven have been arrested for suspected criminality,” he said.

One of the successful prosecutions involved Pakistani Muhammad Shafi (27), who was convicted of having false passports in January. Gardaí also objected to his scheduled marriage to a Latvian aged 19.

Chief Supt O’Driscoll said hundreds of marriages required investigation, and the problem was growing. He said typical cases involved non-EU nationals, most often men from Pakistan and India, who were willing to pay between €3,000-€5,000 to an EU bride to gain residency.

He said a marriage with an EU citizen was considered the “gold card of immigration” for non-EU nationals because the status acquired through EU legislation via marriage was better than that provided via the asylum system.

“In one case on a single day we discovered 10 brides on a single flight from Latvia. The women tend to be young, often between the ages of 18-21. Some speak English well and stay in the country after marrying. Others go home immediately,” he said.

Gardaí have begun to object to scheduled marriages they consider suspect. They lodged 57 objections since last November with registrars about civil ceremonies scheduled nationwide. They are also investigating suspect marriages already registered.

Under the Civil Registration Act, a couple must give three months’ notice before they can get married. Anyone has the right to object to a marriage during this period of time. If an objection to a civil ceremony is lodged, the registrar must investigate the marriage before it can proceed.

So far gardaí have withdrawn just one of the objections and are not aware that any of the marriages subsequently got the go-ahead from registrars, according to Chief Supt O’Driscoll.

He said there is a growing trend whereby couples apply to the Circuit Court for an abridgment order to get married before the three-month waiting time has elapsed. “This makes it possible to have a one-trip visit whereby an EU national can apply for a PPS number, get their documents in place and hold a marriage ceremony and go home within a week or so,” said Mr O’Driscoll.

He said the GNIB was working closely with Interpol, which is helping to track down fake documentation such as divorce papers used by non-EU citizens in their marriage applications. The GNIB is also working with the Latvian authorities, who last year complained to the Government about the large number of women travelling to Ireland to get married.

“We have met with our counterparts in Latvian law enforcement agencies through the auspices of Eurojust to ensure the matter is dealt with appropriately in both jurisdictions,” says Chief Supt O’Driscoll.

He said the GNIB was giving priority to a handful of cases where vulnerable women – some of whom had been tricked into coming to the Republic to take up a job – had alleged abuse. The GNIB would support any move to give registrars powers to conduct more detailed interviews prior to marriage ceremonies, he added.


THE IMMIGRANT Council of Ireland has warned the Government against making any assumptions on the legitimacy of a marriage based on a person’s nationality or immigration status.

The non-governmental organisation said yesterday it understood the Government’s wish to prevent people circumventing immigration laws. But it said it must tackle the problem in a fair manner and should not assume certain marriages were not valid.

“It cannot be assumed that because people of certain nationalities are married that it is a marriage of convenience. Allegations must be based on evidence,” said the council’s chief executive, Denise Charlton.

She said attempts by the Government to prevent marriages of convenience had affected all non-EU citizen and EU citizen couples, including those who had been married for many years and were clearly in loving relationships.

The problem of “sham” marriages was highlighted this week by a marriage registrar, who warned that 10-15 per cent of civil marriages may be aimed at circumventing immigration rules.

Dennis Prior, superintendent registrar for the Health Service Executive eastern registration area, said the rise in suspected bogus marriages was “disheartening and demoralising” for registrars.

The Government is considering introducing rules to try to combat the phenomenon.

In a statement, the Department of Social Protection said there were “indications that marriages of convenience are on the increase” due a recent court ruling reinforcing the rights of EU citizens and non-EU spouses. It also said the Immigration Residence and Protection Bill proposed measures to deal with “sham” marriages.

The Government lost a case at the European Court of Justice in 2008, which prevented it blocking EU citizens from bringing their non-EU spouses to live in Ireland. The Department of Justice has highlighted unusual trends in the number of residency applications made by some nationalities – mainly Pakistanis and Indians – based on marriages to eastern European women.

Labour spokeswoman on social protection Róisín Shortall said there was a need to review the powers of registrars to act when they suspect they are being asked to solemnise a bogus marriage.

– Jamie Smyth