A united archipelago..

With the number of countries implementing the Schengen agreement now increased to 24, the Irish Times tries, once again, to start a reasoned debate on whether the Republic of Ireland should also join. From Monday’s editorial [subs req]

“On the map of the Schengen area Ireland and Britain are conspicuous absentees on the west of the continent, along with the main Balkan states, Turkey, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldova and Russia to the east. New lines are being drawn.

Asked recently whether there is a case for Ireland, North and South, to join the new Schengen system in Europe, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said: “I don’t think there is any discussion on it. It is not an idea that is being floated . . . I don’t think it is going to happen”.”

The editorial continued.

The question arises directly from Britain’s refusal to participate in Schengen because it prefers to maintain control of is own borders. If the common travel area between Ireland and Britain is to continue it is conventionally argued that this State cannot join Schengen. But this orthodoxy has been upset by the British government’s determination to introduce a system of electronic border controls.

To be effective they must be applied either at the Border on this island or between Ireland and Britain. The former solution is unthinkable for the Government and the latter for unionists in Northern Ireland. Instead it is proposed that this State will draw up its own e-border system to match the British one.

That is a regrettable and potentially a retrograde step. It does not necessarily resolve the basic dilemma of where to impose border controls, which are now being applied to travellers between these islands anyway. It draws this State back into a British legal, political and security orbit, from which membership of the EU mainstream has successfully diversified it in recent decades.

The trend is reinforced by the British and Irish opt-outs from the Lisbon Treaty’s justice and home affairs provisions, further reducing Ireland’s legal and political influence over them, as the European Court has now ruled.

It is true that there has been little discussion of the alternative idea that Ireland North and South could apply to join Schengen without prejudice to Northern Ireland’s UK position. But the idea is a good one, which deserves more considered debate and political support.

It’s not, though, automatically a retrograde step – nor is it necessarily a “question [which] arises directly from Britain’s refusal to participate in Schengen”.

While the potential exists for the policy of the more influential state to be dominant in setting the conditions involved in those border controls on an archipelagic basis any discussion on this – and there are indications that, whatever is said, or not said, in public, that discussion is taking place – could focus on how both states involved make that policy on a mutually beneficial basis.

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