Varadkar praises efforts tackling 'sham marriages'

Gardaí believe a number of criminal networks were making large profits organising marriages for visa purposes

Varadkar praises efforts tackling 'sham marriages'

Leo Varadkar. Image: RollingNews.ie

The Minister for Social Protection has congratulated staff and gardaí after the latest figures suggest there has been a huge drop in suspected ‘sham marriages’ in the state.

The garda Operation Vantage was set up in August 2015 in order to investigate illegal immigration and identify potential 'marriages of convenience.'

New legislation enacted the same month gave marriage registrars the power to question a marriage application if they had concerns over its validity.

Under the act, a marriage of convenience is defined as a union where at least one party is a foreign national and “enters into the marriage solely for the purpose of securing an immigration advantage.”

Gardaí believe hundreds of men - many from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - came to Ireland in recent years with the aim of marrying women from one of the other EU states, particularly Portugal and Eastern Europe.

Once married, the non EU national would be entitled to secure EU treaty rights allowing them to live and work throughout Europe.

Criminal networks

Operation Vantage identified a number of criminal networks based in Ireland and the UK who were facilitating the marriages by providing false information and documentation to marriage registrars.

Gardaí believe the activity led to huge profits for the networks with reported fees of up to €20,000 charged for arranging all aspects of a marriage to an EU partner - including the subsequent application for EU residency.

The situation led to some concern that vulnerable EU nationals were being trafficked to Ireland under false pretences for the purposes of marriages of convenience and gardaí have been working with state agencies and NGO’s to assist women who have been exploited in this manner.

Gardaí said the operation was specifically targeted at people who were suspected of exploiting the marriage system - and is “not reflective of any of the genuine asylum applications being received from current conflict areas around the world.”

Huge drop in marriage figures

Figures released today show the number of marriages where both partners are non-Irish nationals has dropped by nearly 60% since the legislation was introduced - leading gardaí to believe the practice was more widespread than previously thought.

Between 2015 and 2016 the number of marriages between non-Irish EU and non-EU nationals in Ireland fell by 58% - from 1,175 to 497.

Social Protection Minister, Leo Varadkar this afternoon congratulated staff in a range of government departments and the gardaí for, “tackling this very serious issue.”

“It’s a great example of inter-agency co-operation and shows the effectiveness of carefully-drafted legislation,” he said.