FG: Vulnerability of Irish passports highlighted

THE travel documents allegedly used by one of the Russian “spy ring” suspects again highlighted the vulnerability of the Irish passport, according to Fine Gael.

The party’s foreign affairs spokesman, Billy Timmins, called on Foreign Affairs Minister, Micheál Martin, to spell out the steps being taken to address the fraudulent use of Irish passports.

“It’s only five months since we learned that eight (fake) Irish passports were used by a Mossad unit which carried out the assassination of Hamas leader, Mahmoud al Mabhouh, in a Dubai hotel last January.

“Major questions remain about the security of Irish passports, particularly given the huge numbers of lost and missing documents.

“In 2009, over 33,000 passports were reported as lost, stolen or mislaid. This represents 6% of all passports issued in 2009, which is a staggering number. I expect the minister to address the matter with the utmost urgency.”

Mr Martin is currently in Uganda to see at first hand the impact of the Government’s overseas aid programme.

In a statement, his department said it had learned yesterday that one of the suspects arrested in the US was alleged to have travelled on a false Irish passport.

“The department is seeking to obtain further information in relation to these reports. The firm position of the Government in regard to the fraudulent use of passports is a matter of public record,” it added.

The Government expelled an Israeli diplomat last month after investigations concluded that Israel was responsible for the use of the forged Irish passports in the January assassination.

The probe was carried out by gardaí and the Passport Service.

A summary of the Passport Service’s report, obtained by the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals the Government considered a worldwide recall of all passports issued before 2005, but decided against such a move because of the logistics and costs involved.

Eight forged Irish passports were used in the assassination. Six of the forgeries bore the numbers of genuine Irish passports but fake names. The remaining two carried fake numbers.

The report concluded that the forgers “did not attempt to steal the identity of Irish citizens”, but tried to produce passports “which resembled valid documents issued at or about that time”.

All eight were based on the type of passport issued before 2005, which contained laminated photographs of the holder.

In 2005, a more secure passport was introduced with the photo and other information laser-engraved under the surface of a polycarbonate substance, making photo substitution impossible.

In 2006, the department introduced biometric passports with a microchip containing a digital image of the holder.

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