Interesting proposal in the Irish Times on Tuesday:
Should the British Government insist on applying border controls between Northern Ireland and Britain the question can justifiably be raised whether it would not be better for Ireland as a whole to join the EU-wide Schengen system of external border controls and internal free movement, in which nine new members are shortly to participate.
This could be done through an initiative between the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, without prejudicing the British citizenship of Northern Ireland residents. (Ireland.com)
The has provoked some debate at politics.ie, and at Slugger where many commenters are opposed to any notion of border controls between Northern Ireland and Britain. However, the British Government may have found a neat but revealing way around this objection.
Although e-borders is primarily aimed at policing international
borders, it is heavily dependent on advanced passenger information that
is gathered by airlines and ferry companies on behalf of the UK
Government. This information can and will also be used for security on
internal flights and ferry journeys, including those between Northern
Ireland and the mainland. But being required to produce a passport or
ID card as proof of identity prior to boarding a plane does not
necessarily mean you’re passing passport control at an international
border. Got that?
Effectively, whether or not there’s a formal border control becomes
less relevant because the extent of checks on internal travel
increases. (The Register)
The implications of this are worth thinking about:
"e-Borders could easily stand for ‘Everywhere Borders’, since it can collect data everywhere and pass it anywhere. It is no longer a one-off check. It means a "papers, please" Britain of mass surveillance, where ordinary citizens are tracked automatically. Passports mark the route that ID cards will follow." (NO2ID)
In other words, the e-borders scheme is an incipient internal passport system, one which ironically, won’t apply on the UK’s only land-border, between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Schengen seems to be developing into something remarkably similar:
A move to
adopt the Schengen acquis in the UK and Ireland would have radical civil
liberties implications because of the very different legal systems found in
common-law and continental codes. The
protection afforded by habeas corpus is not the only factor, although
not the least important either, which comes to mind. Measures which would be
likely to be put forward include the introduction of national identity cards
and continental-style policing of a more intrusive character, including
stop-and-search, increased surveillance of immigrants and other police powers,
ever closer cooperation in data exchange and more radical measures such as hot
pursuit and cross-border surveillance, already in place in between some continental
countries, and ultimately the development of a common border immigration police
service. (Piaras Mac Éinrí, Irish Centre
for Migration Studies, NUI Cork)
Ireland, apparently, faces a Hobson’s choice between one of these two systems. All other things being equal, the Irish Government would probably opt for Schengen, because of its multilateral character. However, that would require external controls on the border with Northern Ireland, which is a non-starter. Hence, the IT proposal that Northern Ireland should join Schengen.
The Irish Government nevertheless seems to be moving towards an arrangement with the UK system, presumably on the grounds that British co-operation is necessary to control immigration onto the island of Ireland.
However, the British Government also needs Irish co-operation to control migration into Northern Ireland, and Schengen could accomplish that, especially as there will in practice be controls between Britain and both parts of Ireland whatever happens.
National considerations aside, there’s a remarkable uniformity to the political agenda, whether it comes from Brussels, London or Dublin. The old European ideal of free movement is becoming increasingly meaningless, whether within the EU, the common travel area, or even the UK.