There has been much discussion over the past number of days about the help given by Bertie Ahern to businessman Norman Turner in obtaining an Irish passport.
What astonishes me about the matter is the revelation that there exists an independent passport service set up for the exclusive benefit of friends and favoured constituents of politicians – This is Tammany Hall at its most bizarre.
What further astonishes me is that nobody seems to think it’s the least bit odd. Moore McDowell, brother of the recently ousted and infamous Minister for Justice, is one of the privileged who has benefited from this exclusive service. Speaking on the Marian Finucane Show (Sun.3rd Feb) he said;
“I had a contact in politics…I lost my passport and had another provided within days…It’s actually a recognised procedure within Foreign Affairs that an emergency passport will be given out, effectively, if a TD goes in to bat for you.”
A spokesperson in the Dept. of Foreign Affairs told me that it’s a choice that people can make; that TDs are approached on a lot of issues. On her advice I have made a formal submission to the Minister requesting answers to a series of questions on the matter.
Curiously, there is no mention of this special service on the Passports Office website so I have also written to that office requesting information on how ‘ordinary’ citizens can access the service.
Irish Times columnist, Noel Whelan, explained how the system works (Today FM, Sunday Supplement, 3rd February).
Apparently, there’s a drop box at the Enquiries Desk in the Dail where TDs deposit passport documents which are then taken by courier across the road to the Passports Office where they are processed at a specially designated desk staffed by three civil servants.
These civil servants are on call to deal with any questions or problems that may arise in relation to the processing of these special passports.
When the passport is ready it is returned by courier to our national parliament where it is collected by the TD and delivered personally to the favoured citizen.
The system was introduced about 15 years ago because the Foreign Affairs office was being swamped by TDs trying to obtain passports for the favoured.
So, there are at least five highly paid civil servants employed in providing this service and the obvious question is – Why?
It’s certainly not because the Passports Office is inefficient. The office provides an extremely well run and efficient service. In addition to normal service there is a special express 10 working day return service for those who need a passport in a hurry. And in addition to that there is also an emergency service whereby citizens can obtain a passport in a couple of days. Only last month a friend of mine obtained a passport in two days.
Politicians themselves provide some of the answers. According to Fianna Fail TD, Eamon O’Cuiv all TDs are effectively postmen, personally delivering passports to constituents all over the country (The Late Debate, 31st Jan).
Insulting the intelligence of listeners O’Cuiv asserted that TDs have no influence whatsoever over the specially designated civil servants who process the special passports for special citizens.
I spoke with Fine Gael TD, David Stanton about the matter. He candidly admitted that there’s no major advantage for those availing of the service but if TDs refused people were going to get ‘pissed off’.
The bottom line is that this service is a resource provided by the State to politicians which they then use to effectively buy votes. In return for selling their vote the favoured receive privileges not available to most other citizens.