In this week’s Irish World I reported on a Home Office briefing on identity cards.
The new minister in charge of the scheme is Harrow East MP Tony McNulty, who comes fom a London Irish background.
This is perhaps ironic given that there have been concerns raised about the impact of the cards on the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland.
I was assured last week that there would be no requirement on Irish people staying in the UK for less than three months to have an identity card, or indeed, carry a passport.
That makes sense given that the bill itself will not make it compulsory to have a card. However, the Government envisages that at a later stage Parliament may vote to make the cards compulsory.
You might then have the situation outlined by David Trimble in December:
Mr Trimble commented that The Home Secretary clearly did not understand what he meant when he referred to the Common Travel Area and pointed out that he referred to “the common travel area that exists in the British isles between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. If identity cards were introduced for UK citizens yet the position continued whereby all citizens of the Republic of Ireland, or people who might legally be able to reside there, can travel to and through the United Kingdom with no travel documents—they do not need a passport or any other travel document—there would be a huge problem and loophole.” He added, “If the proposal reaches its final stage of being a compulsory ID system, it will be necessary to have persuaded the Irish Republic to introduce an almost identical system.” (UUP press release)
When the Irish Justice Minister was first asked about this possibility, he gave a very interesting reply:
“It would alter the current balance between the interests of the State and the rights of the individual to go about their lawful business without being challenged as to who they are.
“The fundamental philosophy is you are not obliged to account for yourself or to carry anything to identify you.
“After 800 years of common law in Ireland it’s something that would require huge reflection and very cogent reasons to change,” he said. (Irish Examiner)
Mr McDowell seems to have more regard for the Common Law tradition than the British Home Secretary, but has since commented:
"a lot would depend on the attitude taken by Britain, because simply travelling in and out of Britain and north-south travel is part of the common travel area." (Sigla Magazine)
The Irish Government attitude seems to be wait and see, which is not surprising given the Parliamentary battle that looks to be looming.
The bill’s passage could be tight enough to make the votes of Northern Ireland MPs a factor, something that I will look at in part two of this post.