Bogus marriages

 

MARRIAGES ARE not always purely romantic affairs. A pragmatic element is frequently involved. That is how royal alliances and commercial interests were promoted in medieval times, especially involving the consolidation of large estates. In Ireland, local communities had their matchmakers. There is, however, a considerable difference between such arranged marriages and modern criminal activity designed to circumvent immigration laws. In the latter case, the marriage ceremony itself and the documentation it generates is the sole objective.

Sixteen people were arrested this year for breaches of the law in relation to bogus marriages and nine of those have been deported or removed from the State. Charges included bigamy, false documentation and evading deportation orders. The offences came to light after the Lithuanian government contacted the Irish authorities to express concern that many young, vulnerable women were being paid to participate in marriages of convenience here and that some of these women had been subjected to false imprisonment and violence.

Large sums are paid to organised gangs to supply immigrants with EU brides who will participate in bogus marriages. It is not an offence to take part in a sham marriage in Ireland and it has been estimated that several hundred bogus marriages now take place in registry offices every year.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern lobbied his European colleagues for change after the European Court of Justice struck down aspects of Irish legislation in 2008, but without effect. Nearly 400 marriage applications were made on behalf of Pakistani citizens here last year, more than half involving eastern European women. In response, Mr Ahern has published the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, 2010, which defines a marriage of convenience and allows him to ignore such a ceremony in determining any immigration matter. The draft legislation also places an obligation on a foreign national who is not lawfully in the State to leave.

Marriage between immigrants and resident citizens is part of normal life. But when organised crime enters the equation and civil ceremonies are exploited to assist unlawful immigration, State agencies have an obligation to intervene. New guidelines are being drafted to create an impediment where the couple do not speak the same language; do not know each other’s addresses or where the man controls all the documentation. These are sensible, precautionary steps.