Proposals for controls on UK and Ireland travel

 

THE PUSH for British and Irish "electronic border" systems continued yesterday with the publication of a consultation paper on the proposed reform of the Common Travel Area (CTA).

However, the publication of the paper by the UK Border Agency left unresolved symbolic and sensitive political issues surrounding the question of possible identity checks for people travelling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The home office in London confirmed that this will be the subject of a separate consultation to be launched in the autumn.

As reported last week in The Irish Times, people availing of the CTA between the Republic and "the UK" - meaning Britain - will be required to produce a passport or other photographic proof of identity. Views are now being sought about acceptable documentation for air and sea travel - and on whether those forms of documentation would be different for air travel from the Republic to Northern Ireland.

In a joint statement yesterday Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and British home secretary Jacqui Smith confirmed they have "no plans to introduce fixed controls on either side of the Irish land border for immigration or other purposes". However, the British say that "mirroring activity in the Republic" they will consider increasing "ad hoc immigration checks on vehicles in order to target non-CTA nationals on the Northern Ireland side of the land border".

In respect of what it describes as "routes between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom" the consultation paper proposes:

Introduction of full immigration controls for non-CTA nationals of countries other than the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the Crown Dependencies by 2014;

New measures to verify the identities of UK, Irish and Crown dependency nationals on the same air and sea routes;

Monitoring of all travel between the UK and the Republic of Ireland by April 2009 and sea travel by late 2010 using our e-Borders watch list checks;

Introduction of carriers' liability on the same routes.

Official sources last night confirmed that the sharing of intelligence-based watch lists would require a formal agreement or "a memorandum of understanding" between the two governments.

On routes from outside the CTA to the UK and the Republic the paper says "we will explore with the Irish Government a common (short stay visit) visa or mutual recognition of two national visas issued to the same standards".

The British government will clarify the CTA rules by way of an amendment to the new Immigration and Citizenship Bill.

Mr Ahern and Ms Smith said: "It is crucial that our two countries work closely together to ensure our borders are stronger than ever. "We have agreed a range of joint and national measures specifically to strengthen our CTA.

"In developing these measures, both governments fully recognise the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. Both governments affirm that they have no plans to introduce fixed controls on either side of the Irish land border for immigration or other purposes. We will tackle the challenges we face head on through the use of state of the art border technology, joint sea and port operations and the continued exchange of intelligence. We are introducing electronic border management systems so we can count people in and out of the country, and identify those people who may be of interest to our law enforcement authorities. We are committed to preserving our CTA and its benefits for legitimate travellers."