Attorney General: no questions

THE Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, has intervened to restrict marriage registrars from interviewing couples they suspect may be entering into "sham marriages".

Marriage scams in Ireland are mainly organised by men from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and parts of Africa, who are seeking residency in Ireland. They recruit women to marry, mainly from EU states in eastern Europe, offering them up to €3,000 in exchange.

Until recent weeks, marriage registrars who were suspicious that a couple were entering into a sham marriage had the power to interview the couple separately, asking them a series of questions to determine how well they knew each other and each other's family background. If the couple knew little or nothing about each other, the marriage registrar could then write a "letter of objection" opposing the marriage. It is understood this was one of the most successful ways for marriage registrars to identify sham marriages.

However, the Attorney General recently informed the Registrar General of Marriages that the practice of questioning people about their knowledge of their partner was "not supported by law", according to an informed source.

New guidelines have been issued to registrars in recent weeks to try to halt the increase in suspected sham marriages, but the source said the fact that staff can no longer quiz couples has "effectively left them powerless".

It is the practice in many European countries, and in Australia and the US, to interview couples to determine that they are not entering into a marriage of convenience so that one of the parties can secure residency. In Australia and the US, couples must provide photos, letters and joint bank account details where possible to prove they have been in long-standing relationships. They are also interviewed separately to determine they are in a genuine relationship.

The garda source added that, despite the new guidelines, Ireland remained a "soft touch" for those attempting to enter into sham marriages.

A spokeswoman from the department of social protection declined to comment on the attorney general's intervention. "The General Register Office does not comment on legal advice received. However, it is satisfied that the guidelines currently being applied by registrars are in accordance with the law," it said in a statement to the Sunday Tribune.