Lock up your daughters. Non-Irish men are on a residency-seeking rampage and no unmarried (and perhaps even some married) woman is safe. Pakistani men are marrying Latvian women, Nigerians are tying the knot with Brits, Brazilians are hooking up with Italians, and Indians are saying "I do" with Poles. And all on our soil. This information comes courtesy of a front-page article in the Irish Times, based on the opinion of one person, superintendent registrar for the HSE eastern registration area, a man called Dennis Prior. Prior said he suspected between 10 and 15% of civil marriages were bogus, held to circumvent immigration laws, and that this amounted to an "attack on marriage".
The language in the article was strange. No concrete evidence was provided to back up Prior's claims. All the information was coming from one registrar spouting what seemed to be an individual view. This was not a dinner-party conversation, it was the front of a newspaper. And because it was a front-page story, there was a substantial follow-up – it is August after all.
Why is the HSE so smart at coming out with newsworthy statements like Prior's take on sham marriages, yet on issues of huge public concern surrounding oh, I don't know, the misdiagnoses of cancers or faulty hospital equipment, the HSE falls practically mute? When you really need the HSE, it adopts a talk-to-the-hand approach. The idea that a person working for the HSE would actually come out and speak to the press is also quite unusual. Every journalist knows the pain of getting the HSE to talk about anything. And like most public servants, HSE staff are informally forbidden from speaking to the press, and never on the record, always referring you to spokespeople who are trained in Rudolf Nureyev-esque levels of prancing around questions.
Registrars made the news earlier this summer during the increasingly muddy Dáil debates on the now-passed Civil Partnership Bill. A number of TDs alluded to a lobby group including registrars appealing for a "freedom of conscience exemption" in the bill, which basically meant that if a registrar thought gays were icky, they wouldn't have to help them get civil-partnered. Funnily enough, this mysterious lobby group was very hard to pin down.
Mary O'Rourke persistently questioned whether or not a group of registrars was behind this appeal during the final stages of the bill. "I ask, namely, if there has been a lobby by registrars who wish to have a clause allowing them to opt out," O'Rourke put to Dermot Ahern, to which he replied, "No."
"If there was no lobby how did all this arise?" she continued. "Has the minister any idea as to where the story of registrars not wishing to do their duty, their job for which they are paid, originated?" Following some pussy-footing around, Ahern concluded, "There is no doubt that the representations being made by others – not the registrars – was that there may be registrars who may have a difficulty."
So the story that registrars were moaning at the government about having to preside over gay civil partnerships seems to be a total flyer, put out there by the church, or other "concerned" homophobic groups. It must be annoying to have people making presumptions on your behalf, right, registrars? Oh wait, that's what's happening right now with the release of information about all this rampant sham marrying.
I've no doubt sham marriages are taking place. They happen all over the world, so why not here? There's also no doubt that such practices have very dodgy consequences for young, vulnerable women. According to a subsequent report in the Irish Times, gardaí discovered 10 prospective sham brides on a single flight from Latvia. But if we're going to report on this issue, then surely the press has a responsibility to investigate it thoroughly, and not take the word of one man which is then followed up inaccurately throughout the rest of the media. Shrouding the details of what's actually happening in unsubstantiated figures and personal opinion gives a golden ticket to reactionary, anti-immigrant news outlets to use the story to splash around.
But back to this "attack on marriage". Isn't everyone bored hearing about various groups subverting or attacking this elevated institution? Surely the greatest "attack on marriage" in Ireland at the moment is straight people getting divorced. No amount of gay people demanding equal rights, or this supposed escalating trend in sham marriages, could ever contribute to the destruction of the institution as much as good ol' Catholic heterosexuals have been managing so far.