Government agreeable to using Irish ports and airports to control immigration to UK

James Brokenshire says countries would work to tackle illegal immigration post-Brexit

The Irish Government is agreeable to Irish ports and airports being used as part of a frontline to control immigration into Britain.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said neither the Irish or British governments wanted a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

“So, if you do not have a border, going from Newry going across, dividing Sligo and Donegal from the northern counties, the next step is to have your controls at the ports.”

“So that would mean Rosslare, and Larne, and the airports, but that wouldn’t be much more than the normal checks we have at airports already, where you show your passport.”

Mr Noonan was responding to comments from Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire who said the Irish and British governments would work to strengthen Ireland's external borders after Brexit, to make them proxy ports of entry into Britain.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said the Irish Government was agreeable to Irish ports and airports being used to control immigration into Britain.

Not surprising

Ms Fitzgerald said there was “not anything surprising” in Mr Brokenshire’s views and that such a move would avoid the re-establishment of a hard border between the North and Republic.

However, Government moves to make the State’s ports of entry proxy border posts for Britain is likely to meet with strong political opposition.

In an interview in the Guardian, Mr Brokenshire said there was now a “high level of collaboration on a joint programme of work” between the two states to control immigration.

“We have put in place a range of measures to further combat illegal migration working closely with the Irish Government,” Mr Brokenshire said.

“Our focus is to strengthen the external border of the common travel area [CTA], building on the strong collaboration with our Irish partners.”

Responding, Ms Fitzgerald said even in the absence of Brexit, co-operation between both jurisdictions would have continued to combat illegal immigration.

“The whole question of security in the ports as well as our interests is going to be an area where there is more focus on in relation to the risks of terrorism and security cooperation,” she said.

“I envisage the security co-operation continuing and developing if anything over the next number of years. There is not anything surprising in what he has said.”

Ms Fitzgerald’s confirmation that consideration is being given to Irish ports of entry being used as proxy front-line border posts for the UK is likely to meet with a mixed political response domestically.

Changed legal status

Asked whether the changed legal status of Britain in the aftermath of Brexit would make the use of Irish ports of entry as proxy front-line border posts for the UK problematic, she agreed there were complex issues to be teased out.

“Our particular issue, and that of the UK, is working with other member states [in the EU] to ensure they understand precisely the common travel area. There is a huge job to be done in that respect.

“We don’t want a hard border North and South. There is going to be more focus on the perimeter. We have said this all along. We are now the border effectively for the EU.”

Britain is pushing for post-Brexit UK immigration controls back to Northern Ireland with a view to London and Dublin sharing data to stop migrants using Ireland as a back door into the UK.

Mr Noonan said he had met British chancellor Philip Hammond over Ireland’s fears of a possible return of a border which would threaten the peace process and business between Ireland, the UK and the rest of Europe.

“There aren’t any negotiations yet, but there have been soundings taken between Ministers and between senior civil servants,” he said.

Mr Noonan warned: "Obviously, if the United Kingdom is not in the European Union, the only land border they will have with Europe is across Ireland, about 40km from Dublin Airport."

“So, it is an issue, but I think it’ll be resolved,” he said.

Asked whether he foresaw a situation where UK-bound migrants would seek to use any such border, Mr Noonan responded: “It’s too soon to make predictions yet.”

He added: “The Brexit process is going to take maybe four years, maybe more, but we have interests, and we have commenced discussing them with the UK authorities.

“Both sides are pledged to finding a solution that’s effective, while at the same time that doesn’t disrupt the common travel area between ourselves and the UK, or indeed the common labour market between both countries.”