In 2011, government officials tasked with looking into the problem of sham marriages sought out the figures for the number of applications for residence in Ireland made by non-EU nationals on the ground of marriage.
They were struck by the number of Latvians who popped up in the “spouse” column. In 2010, the figures showed, 173 Pakistanis applied for residence on the basis of marriage to a Latvian national. As did 53 Indians and 33 Ukrainians. In all, 400 applications that year came from non-EU citizens who had recently exchanged vows with a Latvian.
When he presented the information at a meeting of EU justice ministers in Luxembourg in 2011, then minister for justice Alan Shatter noted the “highly unusual patterns of marriage” involving Latvians and their non-European partners. But that nugget of anecdotal evidence reflected the nature of the problem the authorities faced: they were convinced marriages of convenience were being used to circumvent the immigration laws but they had no way of knowing with any certainty how prevalent the practice was.
That obstacle remains. So do the statistically improbable patterns that so alarmed government officials in 2011 (though women from Portugal have more recently been cited by the authorities in addition to those from Latvia and elsewhere in eastern Europe). But in the intervening years steps have been taken to detect and block such arrangements. And there have been some tentative signs that those efforts are bearing fruit.
In August last year, a change to the Civil Registration Act gave marriage registrars new powers to prevent sham marriages. Since then, the registrars have had the right to investigate and to form an opinion, based on the information provided by the two parties, of the veracity of the application.