Irish exceptionalism wins through over the common travel area

The issues of British and Irish citizenship are for both sorts of Irish, nowadays largely symbolic and about identity, which they obssess about but which mystifies the English, who harp on the practical points . Until that is, a threat was raised to the common travel area. This was quietly lifted yesterday. It happened as the Commons staged a fascinating debate on the spider’s web of links between “these islands” in the final stages of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill . The particular Irish (north and south) interest in the Bill was to avoid the unique status in Britain of Irish people becoming downgraded more or less by accident because of new restrictions on foreign immigration. “British Unionists” of course are Siamese twins with southern Irish passport holders because of the facts of geography. The Irish, note, are not regarded as foreign in the 1949 Act, passed when the Republic cut its last links with the Commonwealth. Since then , tightening up through the British Nationality Act and successive anti terrorism Acts have pulled away from British- Irish exceptionalism, while the GFA has pulled in the opposite direction, towards interchangeability of citizenship. Suddenly last year, the Common travel area came under threat. That threat remained until yesterday, when a requirement for passports be shown on entry to GB from Ireland was withdrawn. This of course was politically explosive because of the near-impossibility of distinguishing between Irish passport holders entering from the Republic and British and Irish passport holders entering from NI. It has taken quite a while for the penny to drop. In the end, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas’s announcement of the withdrawal of the passport requirement was a grand fanfare to introduce a modest theme. Will the Republic now remove its requirement for British passports at Dublin airport etc? And there’s just one other wee detail. From the Irish Times story.

The Home Office in London has maintained: “There are no plans to introduce fixed controls on the land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland or on routes from the Crown dependencies to the United Kingdom.”

But there never were any such plans. The plan was for “checks, ” not fixed controls, on entry into NI and between Great Britain and the other island. However I say you’d still be advised to carry a passport from one island to another and not just when Ryanair requires it, whether is bears the harp or the royal arms. The earlier debate on citizenship itself is worth a browse, starting with the speech by Andrew Mackinlay, MP for Thurrock in Essex and unofficially, for God and Ulster. (Scroll through the amendment details to reach Mackinlay)

The Home Office, and now the Ministry of Justice, have never really understood the complicated, but unique and extremely interesting, constitutional relationship between, and shared history of, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Perhaps they should have understood it, however, because, after all, we are told that this legislation has emerged from a review by one of our former Attorneys-General. He was supposed to do an in-depth job, but this topic obviously never crossed his desk; it was not on the radar screen.

I actually raised this with Lord Goldsmith myself, but he reacted with that time honoured English blindness that has bedevilled our history and only gives way, if at all, when the crisis is reached. He thought it might be possible in GB to distinguish for the purpose of citizens’ privilege between Irish passport holders born and resident in NI from those born and resident in ROI. Only if you put averyone through a few hours worth of background checks, like an unfortunate stateless Somali. I may have put him right on that one. But on the narrow point of Irish citizens born after 1949 wanting to be recognised as British as well, I’m afraid Mackinlay lost his largely symbolic point – for now.

  • Framer

    Photo-identity checks at airports are strictly for the purpose of ensuring you are the same person who checked baggage into the hold.

    Airlines make their choice of what constitutes an appropriate piece of photo-identity.

    I have travelled on a work pass out of Belfast City Airport.

  • Drumlins Rock

    “It has taken quite a while for the penny to drop. In the end, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas’s announcement of the withdrawal of the passport requirement was a grand fanfare to introduce a modest theme.”
    Actully it took a defeat in house of Lords lead by Unionist and Conservative Peers and threating to ditch the whole bill that made them finally think again, not sure the the DUP peers actually turned up for that vote, they were quick enough to jump on the band wagon yesterday, but in reality it was dead a buried months ago when the Lords rejected it.
    The whole of the British Isles ( Great, Ireland, Mann, Channel etc.) should operate as one for immigration controls and crossing the Irish sea should be no different than catching a bus or train.

  • slug

    “However I say you’d still be advised to carry a passport from one island to another and not just when Ryanair requires it, whether is bears the harp or the royal arms”

    I never use a Passport to fly from GB to NI. I use either my driver licence or my work photo ID. They are smaller.

  • Ex-Ryanair

    Know of one case (last week) where a (local) person was flying from city of Derry to London with Ryanair. Ryanair staff demanded a passport for ID purposes. They refused a valid NI driver’s license.

    Long story short, the person missed the flight, costing 200 quid for new flights, travel to Belfast etc.

    Why do Ryanair have this requirement and is it legal?

  • Drumlins Rock

    ryanair are so creative in pissing off customers, wonder what they will come up with next, I get the feeling its gonna backfire on Mr O’Leary soon.

  • DoctorWho

    I am a regular flyer, and quite often use Ryanair, I´ve never had a problem with them. Am I the only one?

  • Framer

    Ryanair’s new passports only policy –

    PLEASE NOTE – passengers making new bookings from the 20th May 2009 onwards will no longer be able to select to check-in at the airport and therefore will be unable to book flights and use their driving licence as photo-id.

    From the 1st October 2009 driving licences will NO LONGER be an acceptable travel document on Ryanair flights

  • Paul

    Agree with what was said above – due to sheer geography and as a point of principle the British Isles should be treated as one unit. The paranoid surveillance rigmarole involved in getting on a domestic flight only serves to irritate some (“why should we need a passport to access our own country?”). On the Continent they are busy breaking barriers down and we seem to be putting them up again – witness the Øresund Bridge for example.

    A flight to London to Belfast should be seen as a bus ride. However, that’s not in the UK government’s interests; the main reason for the threat to the CTA is the paranoia of the governments more than anything.

  • kensei

    Only if you put averyone through a few hours worth of background checks,

    Hmmm. My irish Passport clearly states the place of Birth on it. Now, there are probably rare cases where being born in Antrim doesn’t imply implicit British citizenship but as a heuristic surely it opasses muster?

  • Drumlins rock

    Kensei, that would involve the immigration officer to have a knowledge of the 6 counties, wee bit beyond some of them i think,
    The situation has arisen due to a plan to record everyone entering the UK and then recording them as they leave, and hope the numbers sorta match, even with todays technology it was probably doomed from the start, this has totally sunk it unless in the unlikely case the Irish government signs up too,

  • RepublicanStones

    Didn’t O’Leary recently suggest having a standing section for short haul flights?

  • Brian Walker

    kensei, had they tried to enforce a distinction between NI and ROI passport holders, they would have needed a comprehesnive list of NI place names. You can imagine the muddle over similar place names – Bally what? And what if you had been born in Donegal and moved to Antrim at age two days or 20 years? Strictly speaking you are not a British citizen unless you apply for naturalisation. On the other hand, you have full citizen rights in NI and immediately in GB, provided you give a former NI address to apply for instant welfare payments etc. The distinction would have created an unnecessary bureaucratic muddle, solved by treating citizenship as interchangeable for practical purposes,like showing your passport on GB entry if required whatever its allegiance, as anyone can be under the Terrorism Act.

  • kensei


    If you are born in Ireland it specifies the county so there is no confusion. And I didn’t say it was absolutely perfect, but you’d guess it would suffice for 99% of cases.

    Not that I think it’s a particularly bright idea, just the technical problems don’t seem particularly insurmountable.

  • I’ve never understood the GB (as opposed to NI) obsession with tight border controls. If even Iceland can join the Schengen area without fuss, why not the UK? Or is it just the tabloids whipping up hysteria over Sangatte…?

  • The only positive argument for the CTA in the South (imho) is that it acts as a political-excuse for not joining the Schengen Agreement, which would abolish passport-checks at our ports and airports on travellers to and from 25 other countries. On the other hand, it would seem that were we to join Schengen, we would have to establish border controls with the North. The govt has said that over 90% of our illegals are entering the State via the border with the Six Countries. So Schengen might, by virtue of the UK not being in it, tackle to some extent that traffic. But as one door closes, another opens as immigration-officers at Dublin airport and Rosslare Harbour will lose the power to with-hold “permission to land” for suspected illegals. On balance, it is six of one and half a dozen of the other in my opinion.

    What I find strange is that the Unionists seem not only opposed to passport checks between NI and the UK, but also opposed to checks on the North-South border. I would have thought that the apparent reinforcing of the Border would appeal to their partitionist instincts. But there you go.