Irish Independent


Liam Collins
And Don Lavery

IRISH people are being randomly stopped at Dublin Airport and are being subjected to questioning by immigration officers from the UK, it has been learned.

Yesterday the Minister for Justice faced demands to make a statement on the development, which the Labour Party claimed was "highly irregular". Fine Gael said it was "inappropriate".

The Sunday Independent has confirmed that UK immigration officers have been questioning Irish citizens arriving at Dublin Airport as part of what the Department of Justice here calls a "joint operation" to protect the "common travel area" from illegal immigrants.

The joint British-Irish operations at the airport have been sanctioned by the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, and are part of a "series of joint operations" at Irish ports and airports.

An Irish businessmen objected to being questioned by British officials at Dublin Airport 10 days ago, after he was referred to them by gardai.

The businessman was referred to the UK's immigration officials when he failed to produce visual identification while going through passport control after arriving on a Ryanair flight from London.

The British official admitted to the businessman that he was from the British immigration service, and said he was on a "training course" at the airport.

But the Department of Justice has told the the Sunday Independent that the series of joint British-Irish operations have been established "to preserve the common travel area as it currently exists for the benefit of Irish and British citizens."

A common travel area is in existence between Ireland and the UK (including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man).

There is no formal agreement between Ireland and UK regarding the common travel area, and it is not provided for in legislation. The first legal recognition of the common travel area between Ireland and the UK is contained in the Treaty of Amsterdam.

Sources in the Department of Justice deny that the joint operation has been established because of a lack of confidence by the UK authorities on Irish border controls.

Department sources say the joint approach is "to combat trafficking and to monitor the extent to which the various travel routes are being abused".

The common travel area did not have immigration controls prior to 1997, but since then spot-checks have been introduced.

The Irish businessman, who holds both Irish and US passports, was stopped at passport control by a garda member. As his passports were in a briefcase - which he did not want to open - he produced a US driving licence when asked for identification. This did not have his picture.

He told the Garda that he did not require visual identification to travel between Ireland and Britain. At that stage he was handed over to two UK immigration officers.

The man was subsequently let through passport control after he disputed their authority to question him on Irish soil and asked under what section of Irish law they were operating.

The Department of Justice has defended its role in bringing UK immigration officers to Ireland, saying it is part of its mission to "protect" the common travel area which allows Irish and British citizens to travel freely between the two jurisdictions.

"The common travel area is being abused on a widespread basis by persons who are neither Irish or British citizens, to travel from one jurisdiction to the other without proper documentation," said the Department of Justice in reply to questions.

Widespread abuse of false documentation "has become a major feature of the immigration scene," the department added.

However, Labour's Justice spokesman Joe Costello described the practice as "highly irregular" and said he would have concerns about having foreign officials operating in Irish ports and airports.

"It is something that should be discussed, and not done secretly behind the scenes. The Minister should make a pronouncement about it and bring it before the Oireachtas where it can be debated," he said.

He added: "It is our jurisdiction. It should not be the norm that any other nationals from another jurisdiction should be operating as if they were Irish officials."

The Fine Gael Justice spokesman, TD Jim O'Keeffe, said that he did not think that it was appropriate for officials from outside the country to be dealing directly with Irish citizens.

"My reaction to the story is that I would understand how that businessman felt and I would feel that there should not be interrogation by British officialdom on Irish soil."

The Department of Justice did not specify under what section of Irish immigration laws British immigration inspectors could operate in Ireland, or whether visual ID was now necessary to travel between Ireland and Britain.

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