The LSE’s report on Identity cards is fairly sanguine about the impact of the scheme on the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland.
In the event that the UK identity card proposals pass into law, there is a perception that the existence of the Common Travel Area of the UK & Ireland will necessitate the establishment of an Irish identity card, otherwise the Common Travel Area would present a fundamental security loophole in the ID card proposals. This view is not supported by evidence.
However, the LSE Report does note practical concerns raised by human rights group Justice similar to those expressed by the DUP in this week’s debate.
The ID card proposals raise serious questions for the Common Travel Area: (a) To what extent would the Republic be able to continue to be part of a joint immigration area with the UK if that country relied on passport cards that contained electronic information that can only be read by specially installed machines? (b) Would the UK government want to install these machines in Irish ports and airports, and would the Irish want them? (c) Would the British people be content with the fact that details on their cards could be read outside the UK, above and beyond the biometrics currently envisaged by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) and endorsed by the EU?
The current rules (principally the Immigration (Control of Entry through the Republic of Ireland) Order 1972) restrict the wide freedoms that appear to be granted by the Common Travel Area. Specifically, the Common Travel Area does not apply in situations where: • a person’s journey originated outside the Republic and he was not given leave to remain there; • a person who is a visa national (i.e. someone who is required to produce a passport or other identity document endorsed with a UK visa) has no valid visa for his entry into the UK; • a person entered the Republic unlawfully from a place outside the Common Travel Area; • a person entered the Republic from the UK or the Islands, after entering there unlawfully; • a person in respect of whom directions have been given by the Secretary of State for him not to be given entry to the UK.
However, under an electronic ID card system, much of the information required by the authorities in Ireland in order to make the decisions outlined above in respect of people entering the UK would be unavailable to them, unless they had the correct technology. This is because it will be held electronically. Ironically, the people who would be most difficult to assess would be people with passport cards, rather than those travelling on a traditional passport with a visa stamp. Of course, it is possible for the Republic to be removed from the Common Travel Area altogether by an Order in Council/SI (s.10 of the Act). Entry from the Republic would then be subject to the Act so that nationals from the European Economic Area (the 25 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) would require a valid passport or ID card and visa nationals a visa, and these would be checked. (JUSTICE Information Resource on Identity Cards).
Having noted these issues, the LSE Report goes on to state:
The Irish Department of Justice has also expressed concern about the fate of the Common Travel Area, postulating that an identity card system may need to be established for Ireland.
Provided that the appropriate technology is in place throughout the Area, we see no reason why this step should be taken. Alternative documentation can still be used within the Area, as it is now, and those Irish nationals residing in the UK for more than three months will be able to apply for a UK identity card, as would the nationals of any other country.
However, given that the Home Secretary has assured the DUP that the identity database will not be shared with Ireland, it seems that the appropriate technology will not be in place.
The Justice document also highlights an interesting anomaly:
Because of the historical relationship between Britain and Ireland, and Ireland and many other parts of the world, the situation of many Irish passport holders and those travelling on Irish passports is quite complex. There is a special exemption under s.31 of the British Nationality Act 1981 for Irish/British citizens in existence prior to 1 January 1949, (i.e. who are now 55 years of age or older) allowing them to hold dual British/Irish nationality.
As passport cards are to contain more detailed information, people falling into this category might be content to travel using their Irish passport and have only a non-driving/entitlement card for use within the UK.
Similarly, if they had to pay more for the renewal of their British passport they might only be inclined to renew their Irish one. This would prevent the authorities (if indeed they were able) from being able to record whenever anyone in this category left or entered the country using their passport card.
I would have thought this choice would also be open to people in Northern Ireland, and to many people in Britain of Irish descent.