Thursday 21 November 2019

Ex-ministers, TDs to give up diplomatic passports

Ming Flanagan and 'Inkgate' TD O Snodaigh among privileged holders

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen is among a host of ex-ministers who will be called on to hand back their diplomatic and official passports, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore will write to Mr Cowen and 60 former ministers, TDs and senior civil servants and request they hand back the passports as part of a reform programme.

The Sunday Independent has also learned that the wives of former Ministers for Foreign Affairs Michael O'Kennedy and David Andrews have enjoyed use of a diplomatic passport.

It has been confirmed that Mr Gilmore will write to Breda O'Kennedy and Annette Andrews asking them to relinquish the passports which entitle the holders to certain enhanced privileges when travelling abroad.

Another high-profile spouse set to lose her diplomatic passport is Maureen Haughey, widow of former Taoiseach Charles J Haughey, who died in 2006. Mrs Haughey, who is the daughter of former Taoiseach Sean Lemass, is officially recorded as Mary Haughey.

Sources say Mr Gilmore is eager to see a much tighter regime in place.

Several other members of the failed Cowen cabinet, which served between 2008 and 2011, are also set to lose the diplomatic privilege. They include former Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, former Defence Minister Tony Killeen, former Environment Minister Dick Roche, former Transport Minister Martin Cullen and former Greens junior minister Mary White.

It emerged last year that Mr Cullen, the minister responsible for the e-voting machines debacle, relocated to Florida to pursue business interests while in receipt of a minister's pension of €142,000 a year.

Other names contained on the list of those set to lose their diplomatic passports include former Fine Gael junior minister Jim O'Keeffe, former Fianna Fail junior ministers Ivor Callely and Ned O'Keeffe and former Green Party TD Dan Boyle.

Mr Gilmore is to bring a memo outlining his decision to reform the diplomatic passport system to Cabinet on Tuesday, and will begin making contact with those involved in the coming weeks.

Former taoisigh are entitled to a different category of passport after they leave office, and this is the type Mr Cowen may receive once he hands back his current one.

His predecessor Bertie Ahern was on the list, but as a former Taoiseach, indicating he has already surrendered his full diplomatic Taoiseach's passport.

A recent review found there are 1,900 diplomatic passports and 7,400 official passports in circulation.

Diplomatic passports are generally issued to Irish diplomats overseas, members of the Oireachtas and the judiciary. Official passports were issued to other public servants and members of the Defence Forces who travel outside the State on official business.

Many western countries extend beneficial consideration to someone travelling on such a document, including use of a fast-track channel at immigration.

The revised criteria will mean applications will only be approved for those who can demonstrate they need a passport for travel to undertake official business on behalf of the State. Any passport issued may only be used for official travel and not for personal travel.

The passports will be valid only for the period required to perform that official role, which in most cases will not extend beyond three years. Applicants must pledge that the passport will be returned for cancellation should their role change before the document expires.

Of the current crop of politicians in Leinster House, dozens enjoy the privilege of a special diplomatic passport.

According to recently released information, among those accredited as Irish diplomats are "Inkgate" Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh and independent TD Michael Lowry, who was heavily criticised by the Moriarty tribunal. In total, 48 TDs hold diplomatic passports. These include Barry Cowen, a brother of former Taoiseach Brian; Sinn Fein economics spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn; and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.

While figures such as Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore are not surprisingly on the list, nearly half the Senate – 23 out of 60 members – have diplomatic passports.

These include Sinn Fein senators Trevor O Clochartaigh and Kathryn Reilly; former presidential candidate David Norris; former supermarket tycoon Feargal Quinn; and oncologist Prof John Crown.

Irish Independent

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