Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now

'Is the situation really as simple as "cash for passports" here in Ireland? Yes, it is'

Offering passports to billionaires is in stark contrast to our treatment of the 4,000 people currently residing in direct provision centres, writes Éilis Ryan.

Éilis Ryan Dublin city councillor, Workers’ Party

HOW MUCH WOULD you guess is the cost of buying Irish citizenship? Your first reaction might actually be that surely you can’t simply buy your way to such a thing. Mine certainly was.

But what if you heard it is possible to buy citizenship for the low low cost of a couple of million Euro? Not exactly equal opportunities access to Irish passports.

Last week, it was reported that the Forbes billionaire list included eight Irish billionaires.

But on closer examination, it turns out that two of these are former American citizens, who Forbes indicates renounced US citizenship and took up Irish citizenship primarily to reduce their billionaire’s tax bill: John Dorrance, heir to the Campbell’s soup-empire, and John Grayken, founder of Lone Star private equity fund.

Ireland doesn’t tax wealth properly

The amount of wealth accumulated by these super-wealthy is unjustifiable in itself but in Ireland we do not even tax this wealth properly.

A republic has no business luring the super-wealthy by telling them they can pay less tax here.

The fact that two of the eight people listed as “Irish” billionaires have effectively only taken up Irish citizenship to avoid paying taxes on their wealth is in itself an indictment on Ireland’s tax system.

Is it really as simple as “cash for passports”?

Twice in the last number of decades, the Irish government has instigated schemes that effectively allow the super-wealthy to simply buy an Irish passport. Their ostensible justification is as a means of encouraging investment in jobs in the country.

For a decade until the mid-1990s, an “economic citizenship” scheme operated by the Irish government allowed anybody to make a one-off investment of $1.7 million in return for instant citizenship within 90 days.

Beneficiaries had to buy a home in Ireland and reside there for at least 60 days during their first two years of citizenship, but that was it.

In 2012, the Labour/ Fine Gael coalition re-introduced the scheme, and in 2013, to encourage higher uptake, the cost of the cheapest “investment” scheme available to obtain residency and then citizenship was halved to €500,000. Part of this sum can include payment of third-level fees if the children of the “investor” attend university in Ireland.

The European border crack-down

Such “cash for passports” programmes stand in stark contrast to the situation of the over 4,000 people currently residing in Ireland’s many direct provision centres, awaiting decisions on their applications for asylum to live indefinitely in Ireland.

And this is without even considering the thousands of migrants who have died in the waters surrounding Europe who wish to take up residency here.

The migrant death toll, and the brutal system that is direct provision, are justified by our government on the grounds that we need a fair, transparent way of assessing who is and is not “entitled” to reside in Ireland.

Ireland’s record on granting asylum to those who seek refugee status is exceptionally low. Between 2012 and 2014, the United Nations High Commisioner on Refugees estimated that Ireland accepted around 3% of applications for asylum received – placing us 21st out of 30 European countries.

Many of those who are refused asylum are told that, even though they come from poor, war torn environments, they do not meet exceptionally strict criteria proving they will be in danger if they return to their home country.

It’s a far cry from simply buying your way into the country.

Irish citizenship – why bother?

So why does Irish citizenship attract interest from the super wealthy?

The main advantage you’ll often hear about Irish citizenship is that allows access to the entire EU and that, globally, it is uniquely hassle-free to travel on an Irish passport. But, more likely of interest to our super-wealthy “investors”, there are also clear tax benefits for those super-wealthy who swap their US passports for Irish citizenship.

When John Dorrance, who inherited Campbell’s soup, sold his stake in the empire, he emigrated to Ireland, according to Forbes, in order to avoid capital gains tax.

Making a difference

A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article.

Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can make sure we can keep reliable, meaningful news open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

The Philadelphia Inquirer at the time reported:

In Ireland, he can pay half the 30 percent US tax rate on dividends, and when he dies, his estate will be taxed at 2 percent, rather than 55 percent in the United States.

Dorrance was reportedly granted citizenship in exchange for planting €1.5million worth of trees in Ireland. There are also question marks over whether the billionaires brought in through the Irish government’s cash-for-passports scheme act in the public interest.

John Grayken, meanwhile, is CEO and founder of Lone Star private equity firm. Lone Star, owned by now-Irish billionaire John Grayken, is one of the major vulture funds buying and selling distressed Irish mortgages and debt. Companies like Lone Star have been instrumental to worsening the debt and evictions crisis in Ireland.

That we reward the founders of such company with citizenship – and the tax breaks that come with that in Ireland – speaks volumes to our state’s attitude to who deserves what in Ireland.

A republic of equals?

The notion that thousands of applicants for Irish residency, many fleeing war, poverty and persecution, are kept in prison conditions in direct provision centres, while the super-rich can simply throw us a few million, and be rewarded with Irish citizenship and a dramatically reduced tax bill, goes against the founding principles of our republic.

As US warplanes continue to travel through Shannon airport, and our government continues to strengthen its links to NATO’s war machine, we should not forget the role we have played in creating the flow of migrants into Europe.

A republic of equals must start with how we treat the most marginalised, not with favours for billionaires.

Éilis Ryan is a councillor for the Workers’ Party in north inner city Dublin.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: ‘It’s time Irish people stood up against racism. We were the terrorists at one time’>

‘Syrians are increasingly likely to opt for a strongman like Assad, capable of bringing stability’>


About the author:

Éilis Ryan  / Dublin city councillor, Workers’ Party

Read next: