I propose to take Questions Nos. 34, 45, 51, 57, 58, 69, 72, 83, 87, 88, 89, 101 and 178 together.
I would like to take the opportunity in answering these questions, all of which relate to the issue of investment-linked naturalisation, to report back to the House on developments in relation to matters which I outlined on 15 June 1994 in response to questions on this issue.
On that occasion, I referred to the advisory group on investment-linked naturalisation which the Government had, at my request, earlier established. I made this request to the Government because I considered it important that I have available in respect of such applications the advice of appropriately qualified people. The group consists of representatives of my Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Enterprise and Employment, Finance and the Government agency engaged in the support and development of indigenous industry, Forbairt.
In establishing the group, the Government also decided that the Minister for Justice should bring its terms of reference to Government at an early date.
In June, I informed the House that a Cabinet sub-committee consisting of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment and the Minister for Justice had been formed specially to advise the Government on the terms of reference for the advisory group. I undertook to make the terms of reference of the advisory group known publicly when they had been settled by the Government. I am now pleased to say that the Government has approved the terms of reference for the group and they are as follows:
First, to consider applications for naturalisation based on investment in the State received by the Minister for Justice and referred to the group and to make recommendations to the Minister based on the group's assessment of the job-creating or job-maintenance capacity of the investment; second, the group will examine each application for naturalisation based on investment, with the assistance of evaluation/advice from relevant agencies where necessary and, in making its recommendations, will apply the following criteria:— (a) substantial residence must be purchased and retained in ownership for a period of at least five years with an undertaking to reside in the State for a minimum of 60 days in the two years following naturalisation; (b) the level of investment must involve a net contribution of at least £1 million per applicant; (c) where the investment is in the form of a loan it shall be for a duration of at least seven years at an interest rate not greater than 1 per cent below the representative Government bond yield on the secondary market, or not greater than 1 per cent below DIBOR, whichever is lower. The loan shall be made by the applicant direct to the firm concerned, without involvement by any intermediary.
The terms of reference continue:
The loan arrangement shall be transparent and open to scrutiny and shall be such as to prevent the loan being factored or sold on. The loan shall not be secured by the assets of the company in which the investjyment is to be made; (d) as ordinary naturalisation would be for life, the duration of the investment should be for a significant period: at the very least five years; (e) the number of jobs created or maintained must be readily quantifiable and arise from the investment only; (f) audited and certified confirmation of the investment to be available to the group from an established auditing firm of accountants to the effect that the investment has taken place in accordance with the rules of the scheme for naturalisation; (g) the investment will be monitored by Forfás to ensure that the conditions of the investment are being maintained and, in the event that they are not, will inform the group who, in turn, will inform the Minister for Justice with a view to revocation of citizenship; (h) police certificate of character must be provided by authorities in country of origin — and, if required, from the police in any country where the applicant has resided or carried on business or maintained substantial investments — together with express permission to the authorities in Ireland to inquire behind it, and (i) annual certification by the established auditing firm of accountants to Forfás that the investment is being maintained for the appropriate period.
The Government has also decided that the scheme of investment-based naturalisation should be put on a statutory basis and that priority should be given to the preparation of the necessary legislation.
The task of examining this proposed legislation was given in June to the interdepartmental committee established in 1993 to examine policy and practice with regard to non-nationals. The committee has been asked to consider the Government decision in the context of its comprehensive review of legislation in this area generally. The committee will report on the matter when it has reviewed all aspects of it.
In the meantime, and to ensure valuable job-creating investment opportunities are not lost to the State, the Government has agreed that the Minister for Justice may continue to make decisions on investment-based naturalisation applications acting on the recommendations of the advisory group which will operate on the basis of the terms of reference to which I have just referred and which have, of course, the approval of the Government.
There is a further matter which I wish to bring to the attention of the House. In my response on 15 June, I also indicated that no further investment-based naturalisation would be decided by me until the advisory group was fully operational and in position to give me its advice on each case.
As I indicated to the House in June, seven applications for naturalisation on the basis of investment had been granted at that stage in 1994. However, there were also on hand 29 applications which had been approved in principle. The Government decided that the papers in relation to the 29 applications should be referred to the Attorney General for advice as to whether there existed a legal obligation to naturalise these applicants. The Attorney General advised that I was legally bound to grant the applications provided all the necessary conditions were met.
The necessary conditions of course were specific to each application but in general required that this investment has been made, that a residence has been purchased and that the applicant has given an undertaking to spend a reasonable amount of time in the State. The conditions also include the statutory requirement that an oath of loyalty and fidelity to the State be sworn in the prescribed manner and that the statutory naturalisation fee be paid.
Accordingly, I propose to issue certificates of naturalisation to the applicants concerned if they satisfy me that they have fulfilled all the necessary requirements. The list of persons naturalised will be published inIris Oifigiúil in the prescribed manner.
Pending the enactment of specific legislation in the matter all future applications including the remaining applications on hand of course, will now be dealt with as I have indicated, that is, they will be examined by the advisory group which will, acting on the basis of the approved terms of reference, make recommendations to me as to whether the application should be granted or not.
Now, turning to some of the more specific aspects of the questions, of the 39 applicants approved in the periods 1992, 1993 and up to 15 June, 25 of these applications were based on low interest loan facilities given to Irish-based companies and a further two applications were based on combined low interest loan facilities and share investments. However, in researching this question, officials of my Department have informed me the figure given to me previously for 1992 of 17 applications granted in fact, should have been 20. The additional three applicants were granted on the basis of investment in forestry.
A total of 22 applications have been received to date in 1994. One application only has been approved since 1 June 1994. This application was based on a £1 million investment which a company in County Limerick needed to save approximately 100 jobs and to create an additional 82 jobs. I received representations from a broad range of political interests in support of this case. The circumstances were so compelling and, in an effort to secure the employment of the 100 employees, I asked the advisory group in August to meet and consider the application operating on the basis of the approved terms of reference.
I would obviously have preferred not to take this step until after I had an opportunity to announce the terms of reference to the House, but on balance I felt that Deputies would not thank me for sticking too rigidly to protocol at the risk of seeing approximately 100 people lose their jobs in County Limerick.
Deputy Bruton has asked me specifically when the Government decision was made on the working rules for the granting of citizenship as referred to by me in the House on 15 June last. However, I would remind the Deputy of exactly what I said on that occasion which, in fact, is accurately reflected in the Dáil Official Report. I said that the scheme which we had then is the scheme which has existed since the Government decided that inward-based investment should constitute grounds for deeming the investment to have qualified for naturalisation on the basis of what the legislation describes as "Irish associations".
The Department of Justice itself had adopted certain working rules, the more important which were that an investment of about £500,000 would be required and that the applicants would demonstrate an intention of residing in the State by purchasing a residence. Although these working rules were submitted to the Government, the Government decision was that the question of granting or refusing naturalisation in individual cases should be left in the absolute discretion of the Minister for Justice. Despite this, Justice Ministers operated on the basis that investments of the order mentioned would be required and that intention to reside in the country for a reasonable period — to be evidenced, basically, by the purchase of a residence — would also be required.