Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Ceisteanna (4)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

4. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to reports of a so-called scam to obtain taxi licences by persons who are alleged to have no legal status here. [12011/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

I merely wish to raise an issue that was articulated by the journalist Paul Williams on 6 March. He stated in the article that gardaí uncovered evidence of a major scam in which 180 non-EU nationals obtained taxi licences using fraudulent public service vehicles applications despite having no legal status in this country.

He further stated that the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, searched several residential addresses across Dublin in which it was suspected false documentation including SPSV applications were being produced as part of a massive immigration fraud. What is the Minister's perspective on this matter? Is he satisfied that measures are being taken to adequately deal with issues of this nature?

I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, of my Department that on 5 March 2019 the Garda National Immigration Bureau conducted searches of ten residential properties in the Lucan and north inner city areas as part of an ongoing investigation into immigration fraud related to taxi licensing. Officials from the Garda carriage office, the National Transport Authority, INIS and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection are also involved in this ongoing investigation and participated in the multi-agency day of action.

This was the latest phase of an investigation entitled Operation Vantage in which GNIB has, to date, uncovered a total of 134 cases where a PSV licenceholder or PSV applicant is the subject of ongoing investigation and the immigration status of the individual is of concern. Of those cases, 64 investigations have been finalised by the GNIB and forwarded to INIS for consideration of revocation of the immigration permission of the persons concerned. Of those investigations, 55 have been examined by INIS and 25 deportation proceedings have commenced to date. Several arrests have been made and a number of persons have been or are in the process of being deported.

I am advised that as a result of the searches conducted on 5 March a further 15 people have been identified for investigation where marriages of convenience and fraud are suspected. Seven people were found to be in the State without immigration permission and are now subject to immigration controls. The immigration status of these persons is being reviewed by INIS. In addition, I am advised that a number of PSV licences are now being considered for revocation and that following last week's operation a number of taxi plates and vehicle permissions have been seized.

Transport for Ireland operates a mobile phone app devised by the National Transport Authority which enables the public to check that a vehicle or person is registered and to report irregularities, acting as an assurance to users of taxi services. I encourage people to use the app, which is free of charge.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He outlined that there are 64 cases in which revocation is a possibility or probability and that 35 deportations are pending. Although the operation is geographically aligned to the Dublin metropolitan area, is there a concern regarding more widespread potential immigration fraud and usage of false licences? Is there any intelligence to suggest that such practices may also be taking place in other parts of the country?

The investigation is ongoing. As I stated, 134 cases have been identified to date and, of these, 64 investigations have been finalised and forwarded to INIS for consideration. In some cases, licences or immigration permission have been revoked. I do not currently have information for the Deputy as to the extent of the investigation and whether it is specific to the capital city. However, I am mindful that these matters are still under Garda investigation and I will not speculate further. I am happy to inquire as to whether there are grounds for the investigation being placed on a broader footing than currently appears to be the case.

I welcome the response of the Minister. My understanding from that response is that INIS is recommending deportation in the 64 cases that have been sent to it. People who come to this country must abide by the law. There are taxi drivers who ply their trade day in, day out and obey the rules. I welcome the success of Operation Vantage so far. A good job of work has been done by the Garda. It would be very helpful and useful for the Minister to provide any insight he may have as to whether this problem is more widespread than currently seems to be the case.

It is reasonable to assume that the investigation will continue. If there is a requirement for the Garda to further extend or develop it, that undoubtedly will be done. Of the 64 cases, 55 have been examined by INIS and, to date, 25 deportation proceedings have commenced from these cases. Having regard to the number of cases identified to date, it can reasonably be expected that there will be further developments and possible initiation of further deportation proceedings. As these matters are still under Garda investigation, it would be premature and unwise of me to speculate. On the deportation process, all persons subject to deportation are entitled to due process under Irish law, including recourse to the courts if they deem it appropriate. However, I am keen to ensure that any investigations under way will take their course and that any fraud or illegal activity will be dealt with in accordance with the criminal law.