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Friday 26 May 2017

2,000 couples must re-marry over invalid certs fiasco

Jason O'Brien and Fiach Kelly

LEGAL difficulties with marriages in foreign embassies in Ireland are more widespread than first feared.

The Irish Independent has learned that marriages performed in embassies have never been recognised under Irish law, but many were rubber-stamped by authorities such as the Revenue Commissioners because of a lack of inspection.

Thousands of foreign couples who "married" in their countries' embassies in the Republic in recent years are, in fact, legally married only in their home countries.

More than 1,100 marriages performed in the Polish and Lithuanian embassies in Dublin are understood to make up the majority of those affected. Some 2,000 couples could be affected.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said yesterday the invalidity of embassy marriages was not connected to the Civil Registration Act of November 2007. "These marriages have never been legal under Irish law," a spokesman said. He said the "system had tightened" following the new legislation.

Previously, foreign couples "married" in embassies had been largely accepted as officially married when applying to authorities such as the Revenue, and when registering the birth of a child. But problems arose last year when a Polish couple trying to get their son registered was told by the Dublin Register Office that their marriage certificate was invalid.

The General Register Office is examining the possibility of fast-tracking civil ceremonies for those "married" foreign couples who can be contacted so that their union is made legitimate under Irish law.

Recognised

"Under Irish law we've never recognised marriages performed in embassies," a department source said.

"So when the Polish embassy set up here, they clearly never checked. Fundamentally it doesn't seem to have been an issue beforehand simply because you didn't have those large populations of immigrants in Ireland so you didn't have marriages being performed here.

"When the new Act came in, it brought in a series of new measures which meant there was more checking of documents, and I think this is when it first became apparent. We informed the Polish embassy late last year, and it has made the newspapers over there."

Last week the General Register Office wrote to all embassies informing them that marriages performed by diplomatic missions were not recognised unless they conformed to Irish law, and were performed by a registrar in a public building.

Polish Ambassador Dr Tadeusz Szumowski has questioned why this was the first official notification sent out, and why the legality of the marriages was first questioned late last year. He said more than 1,000 Polish couples had been married in the Polish embassy in the past five years. "I am 100pc confident because there has to be a solution," he told the Irish Independent.

"If it is not a legal issue, it starts to be a political issue." Embassy weddings only involve nationals of the embassy country. It is understood nationals of other countries -- such as Spain and Italy -- are not affected because their governments require a civil ceremony in their home nations as well as any embassy wedding. The Department of Foreign Affairs said discussions were under way with Poland on "a bilateral arrangement" on embassy marriages.

Irish Independent

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