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Written Answers. - Passports for Investment Scheme.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 20. Mr. J. O'Keeffe Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the passport for sale files which have been reviewed by him; and the decisions arrived at following such review. [18255/02]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell In the context of recent controversy concerning the appropriateness of the appointment of Ray Burke as a Minister in the last Government, the Taoiseach asked me to examine the file relating to this case and I agreed to do so. The particular file is currently with the Moriarty tribunal. All of the passport for investment files in respect of persons naturalised under the scheme prior to 1997 were sought by the Moriarty tribunal. There was a copy of the file in my Department. However, I also retrieved the original from the tribunal to satisfy myself that the copy file was complete and it was.

My examination confirms that the file discloses that the 11 passports and naturalisations in question were granted in a manner which was, even by the lax standards that have frequently charac[1134] terised the operation of the scheme in question, irregular and unusual. In short, it appears that the passports and naturalisations in question were effected in a manner which by-passed usual formalities and which ignored failure by the applicants to comply with elementary documentary requirements. It appears that the passports in question were prepared in advance of the completion of the applications for naturalisation and it has been reported that they were handed over to the applicants by the then Taoiseach at a lunch hosted by them in a Dublin hotel.

As I have pointed out in this House before, no departmental file is likely to carry any explicit evidence of gross impropriety or corruption on the part of a Member of Government. Nonetheless in the light of what we now know from the proceedings and reports of intervening tribunals, it would be fair to say that serious questions concerning the role of the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, would be raised in the minds of anyone examining the file with the benefit of hindsight. I am not in a position to supply any explanation from the contents of the file which I have examined for the then Taoiseachs apparent interest in having the case processed with unusual haste. These may be matters on which the Moriarty tribunal may be able to cast useful light.

The file shows that Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn as Minister for Justice in the context of ongoing controversy concerning the scheme and in the context of a parliamentary question concerning the 11 passports in question was sufficiently concerned by its contents to commission a report by a senior departmental official. Minister Geoghegan-Quinn subsequently drew her concerns about the file to the attention of the then Tánaiste and now Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, in November 1994 and at his request furnished him with a memorandum summarising the basis for those concerns. Both she and the Taoiseach resigned their respective offices shortly thereafter although this had nothing to do with this particular case. The inquiry ordered by Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn proceeded under her successor Mrs. Nora Owen. An interim report was completed during Mrs. Owen's term of office. A copy of the interim report subsequently came into the possession of the Irish Times in September 1997, after the Minister had left office.

When Minister Burke was initially appointed in July 1997, nobody on any side of this House appears to have revisited the passports issue in the context of his suitability for office. Whether this is explained by an assumption that the substantial responsibility rested with Mr. Haughey rather than Mr. Burke or whether the file's contents only resumed importance in the context of the Gogarty allegations I do not know.

The file in question is now back with the Moriarty tribunal and I can assure the House that my Department will continue to co-operate fully with the tribunal in these and other related matters. I can also confirm that there are no circumstances in which I will recommend to the Government [1135] that we should return to a situation either with or without statute where Irish citizenship can be bartered for economic reasons. If there is an economic case for conferring benefit on investors that benefit as far as I am concerned will have to take a form other than Irish citizenship.

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