Tuesday 12 December 2017

The sad sullying of Ireland's once pristine passport

The recent abuses of our passports have hurt our reputation as a neutral country, writes Eamon Delaney

With all the current focus on the election, there is a tendency to overlook some important news stories, such as this week's expulsion of a Russian diplomat as punishment for the Russian's fraudulent use of Irish passports in a spying ring, which involved surveillance in the United States.

The expulsion seems to come late -- the Russian misuse of the passport happened some months ago -- but is a serious mark of disapproval to a former superpower and major international power. Some critics felt the Irish Government was being too soft on Russians, given the way they carpeted the Israeli Ambassador and expelled an Israeli diplomat for a similar abuse, especially since the Israel action was not proven, though strongly suspected, whereas the Russian case was an actual fraud. The suspicion was that Ireland's relations with Israel were so poor already, that it hardly mattered, whereas Russia is a major source of trade and investment.

In fact, both cases illustrate how prized an Irish passport is for such use and misuse, and thus also the subject of deterioration in its international status. This is quite in contrast to before, and my own time at the Irish Consulate in New York in 1990s, when much-prized Irish passports were issued to Hollywood stars and celebrities, along with thousands, and even tens of thousands, of other Irish Americans, who sought the document precisely because it was a safe badge of lovable, neutral Ireland who colonised nobody and who everyone respected in the developing and Arab worlds. It is likely that hostage Brian Keenan's life was saved because of his Irish passport.

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