Ireland will not be compelled to fingerprint citizens for passports

State has secured a derogation from proposed new EU security regulation

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan launching the passport card in 2015. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan launching the passport card in 2015. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The State will not be required to fingerprint Irish citizens for their passport cards despite a proposed EU regulation forcing member states to take two fingerprints to strengthen the security of identity cards issued to union citizens, the Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed.

Irish diplomats told the EU the matter would be “politically problematic” for the State in negotiations on the regulation late last year, official documents show.

The European Commission proposed the regulation in April to improve the security of identity cards, which allow people to exit and enter another member state. Residence documents issued to EU citizens and residence cards issued to non-EU family members of EU citizens are also in its scope.

The proposal said the introduction of minimum security standards should “facilitate the exercise of free movement and improve security within the EU and at its borders, in particular by limiting the scope for document fraud and identity theft”.

The Austrian presidency of the Council of the European Union signed off on a revised version of the regulation in November with a mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament.

Ireland succeeded in having a derogation inserted into the revised regulation because it does not consider the passport card to be an “identity card”.

Civil liberties

Concerns had been raised by international civil liberties organisation Statewatch recently that all holders of Irish passport cards would have to be fingerprinted, if the preferred new rules of the Council of the European Union and European Commission were maintained following negotiations with the European Parliament.

The regulation does not require member states to introduce identity cards or residence documents where they are not provided for under national law.

The Austrian presidency said fingerprints were the most reliable way of establishing the identity of a person and that their inclusion on ID cards was a “proportionate” measure.

“The inclusion of biometric identifiers, and particularly the inclusion of fingerprints, will make the documents significantly more secure and will align the security of identity cards to most passports issued to EU citizens,” a note from the council presidency said in November.

It said that in a number of meetings on the planned regulation, Ireland had “raised the issue of the Irish passport cards”.

“The Irish passport cards are classified by Ireland as a passport in a card format. They may only be issued to persons that already possess a valid passport for the reason of convenience. The card is valid for five years and allows bearers to travel within the EU, EEA and Switzerland. Ireland does not collect or store fingerprints for passport purposes nor does it have any plans to do so,” the note said.

“Ireland also does not issue identity cards to its citizens, nor does it have existing or proposed legislation to introduce them,” it added.

Reports ‘incorrect’

The document said that if the regulation were to be adopted as it stood, the State was concerned “it would classify passport cards as identity cards, which is politically problematic for Ireland and furthermore it would compel Ireland to introduce fingerprinting”. An existing EU regulation on passport security standards and fingerprints from 2004 is not binding on the State.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said reports that the State would have to introduce fingerprinting were not correct.

“Irish officials at the permanent representation in Brussels, as well as representatives of the Department of Justice, were involved in negotiations on this proposed regulation at the end of October.

“Following our representations, it was recognised by EU partners and the commission that Irish passport cards do not fall within the scope of the proposed regulation. A new recital was introduced to the proposal to reflect this.”