Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

10:30 am

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach if the agreement reached at the recent EU summit is to create a European treaty or a constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18772/07]

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach the reason he used the small print to insert an opt-out clause for Ireland, alone with Poland, to derogate from the human and social rights charter, and failed to mention this omission in his final press briefing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18773/07]

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach the level of resources to be allocated to the National Forum on Europe in respect of the referendum on the newly agreed European Union treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18689/07]

Photo of Arthur MorganArthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach the opt-out protocol on a fundamental rights charter that Ireland will sign up to if it ratifies the EU reform treaty. [18799/07]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with other EU leaders regarding the Intergovernmental Conference to elaborate the reform treaty based on the mandate given to it by the last Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19883/07]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach if the agenda for the October 2007 meeting of the European Council has been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20267/07]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he will conduct on the margins of the forthcoming European Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20268/07]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with President Sarkozy of France on 21 September 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20596/07]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 9: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of France and his other official engagements in Paris; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21365/07]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 10: To ask the Taoiseach his priorities for the October 2007 EU summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22344/07]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 11: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to France; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22408/07]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 12: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the French President, Mr. Sarkozy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22409/07]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 13: To ask the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of the informal meeting of EU leaders-session of the Intergovernmental Conference held in Lisbon on 18 and 19 October 2007. [24770/07]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 14: To ask the Taoiseach the meetings he had with other EU leaders on the margins of the informal meeting of EU leaders-session of the Intergovernmental Conference held in Lisbon on 18 and 19 October 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24771/07]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 15: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the recent European Council meeting in Lisbon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24887/07]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 16: To ask the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings he held on the margins of the European Council summit in Lisbon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24888/07]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 17: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his participation in the European Council in Lisbon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25353/07]

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 17, inclusive, together.

The Estimate for the Department of the Taoiseach includes a provision of €1.621 million for the ongoing work of the National Forum on Europe in 2007. The allocation for 2008 has not yet been finalised.

Since its establishment, the National Forum on Europe has provided the basis for an inclusive and broadly-based debate on Ireland's participation in the European Union, and the overall functioning and future development of the Union. As the forum is an independent body, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on its day-to-day operation or to comment on its likely future work programme. However, I am sure it will play a key role in the debate on the reform treaty in the run-up to the referendum.

In regard to the outcome of the June European Council, I made a statement to the House and answered parliamentary questions on its conclusions, including the reform treaty, on 27 June 2007. I refer the Deputies to the transcripts of those proceedings.

The June European Council agreed a mandate for an Intergovernmental Conference which provides for the renegotiation of the reform treaty. The reform treaty, which may yet be termed the Lisbon treaty, is an amending treaty and will not contain the constitutional phrasing and symbolism that featured in the 2004 treaty. At the same time, much of the substantive package remains unaltered from the draft EU constitutional treaty agreed in 2004.

The Government has supported the Charter of Fundamental Rights from the outset and would have been happy to have it retained in the body of the reform treaty. Unfortunately, it was not possible to secure a consensus on this. The charter will, however, have the same legal value as the treaties and apply to all areas embraced by the European Union and where the member states apply European Union law.

At the behest of the United Kingdom, a protocol to the charter was introduced at a very late stage in the negotiations relating to its scope in UK law. I considered it necessary and prudent to seek an opportunity to study the implications of it. We did not seek an opt-out from the charter, nor did we seek inclusion of a footnote in the draft mandate recording any reservations. We simply indicated that we wished to study the implications of the UK position. We are satisfied that the text of the charter and the wording included in the treaty adequately define the scope and application of the charter.

I attended the informal meeting of Heads of State or Government in Lisbon on 18 and 19 October. I do not normally make statements to the House on informal meetings. However, given that the Intergovernmental Conference on the reform treaty also took place in Lisbon, I will make a statement to the House later today. I will at this stage merely give a summary account of its proceedings.

While there was some discussion of issues, including the allocation of seats in the European Parliament, discussions on the first day in Lisbon focused largely on the reform treaty. I am pleased to report that we reached agreement on the text of the treaty, paving the way for its signature at the December European Council. President Barroso made a presentation to the Council on the European Commission's recent communication on globalisation. The presentation provided the framework for a discussion on Europe's response to globalisation, which also touched on the recent instability in the financial markets and the international response to climate change. I had discussions with President Barroso on the margins of the informal meeting in Lisbon, mainly in relation to the reform treaty and the Irish referendum. He mentioned his intention of visiting Ireland again, something to which I look forward.

I met President Sarkozy in Paris on 21 September. During an open and productive meeting we discussed the reform treaty and a wide range of other issues on the European agenda, including agriculture and international financial issues. Later that evening the President and I attended the Ireland-France rugby match together.

On 22 September I officiated at the reopening of the old library of the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris. I also visited the Irish Embassy in Paris where I met the ambassador and her staff and inspected the magnificently restored reception rooms. This was part of an Embassy open day which a large number of people attended. Among those whom I met were the family of an Irishman who had gone missing in Paris and is, sadly, still missing.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I accept and welcome the outcome of the European Council meeting which reached agreement on the treaty without great difficulty. I also welcome the little compromise on the allocation of 750 or 751 seats in the European Parliament. The eyes of 500 million people will be on this country next year, as the only country voting in a referendum on the reform treaty which Fine Gael will strongly support. It is important that the National Forum on Europe is given adequate resources and that there is real co-operation between the Government and Opposition parties which support the reform treaty in delivering a clear message to voters. Has the Taoiseach decided when the referendum will be held? It is important that a decision is made reasonably early. As the future of 500 million people depends on the Irish vote for the reform treaty, it is of major significance.

Was the European Union's attitude to Kosovo discussed at the Heads of Government meeting? I visited Kosovo some years ago with Deputy Timmins when he was Fine Gael spokesperson on Defence and witnessed the tinderbox in that country, where 2 million Kosovans or Albanians live in uneasy alliance with 90,000 Serbs. The Council of Europe must take a clear view on this position. What will be the view of the European Union if independence is declared and backed by the United States? The Taoiseach is aware that Irish troops have played an important part in their location south of Pristina. Was the matter discussed at the Council?

In The Irish Times today it is reported that Britain is to create an electronic border to deal with terrorist and other illegal movements. Does this mean the Government must review its position on the Schengen agreement? The Taoiseach is aware that Ireland remained outside the Schengen area because of our common travel area arrangement with the United Kingdom. If this is now being changed unilaterally by Britain, are we not obliged to review the Schengen agreement as the common travel area will, effectively, be abolished? In recent years people from this country have been obliged to show passports while travelling to Britain.

11:00 am

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I agree with Deputy Kenny that we need to co-operate closely on tactics for the referendum. I will consult him on its timing. Summer is probably the best time but we must reflect on a number of issues between now and Christmas. The formal advice of the Attorney General must be sought. That can now be done based on the treaty, even though it has not been signed. The treaty must be signed; the referendum Bill must be prepared and debated in the Oireachtas and the referendum commission must sit. The handling of the forum is not within my control but the Government is working with it. I have discussed all of these matters with the Minister of State with responsibility for Europe, Deputy Roche, and we will move ahead on all of them. I hope to bring many of them to a conclusion prior to Christmas and introduce the referendum Bill after Christmas.

Deputy Kenny is correct in saying there will be a huge focus on this country. It is almost certain that this will be the only country holding a referendum and it will attract much interest in Europe and beyond. Our position on the treaty caused some press interest in Lisbon last week. We must take account of the fact that we will not be dealing with the issue within our own shores only but will also draw attention from outside. We had some experience of this on a previous occasion and must take account of it. The referendum is hugely important to the future of the country and our continuation in the European Union. I will co-operate fully on the issue.

The position in Kosovo was discussed by the Foreign Ministers. Later in the session I will ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to update Members on that discussion. Former President Martti Ahtisaari who has been attempting to progress the issue has outlined in considerable detail the risk involved. I visited Kosovo on one occasion. While the huge military force has done a very good job, it is still a very difficult location to be in. Independence could trigger renewed difficulties and must be handled carefully. It is important that EU Foreign Ministers keep an agreed position on the issue. That is why progress has been so painstaking, as detailed in President Ahtisaari's reports.

Early last year the British Government made clear its position on border security. After the events of 11 September 2001 the UK Government stated its intention to tighten and change its existing system. In recent days we have been discussing another move in that process. The UK Government is putting huge resources into its e-border control system. We have been co-operating with the British authorities and have been kept abreast of what they are doing. They are engaged in a ten year programme which, while changes will not be made overnight, raises significant issues for us. After 11 September 2001 some of the major advantages of the common travel area were lost, as passports or photo identification became a requirement in most locations. The potential impact of the electronic border control on the travel of Irish citizens was discussed by the Government yesterday. We are considering a proposed Irish border information system.

That will be the subject of a memorandum to Government next year. The British authorities have kept us fully informed. There have been a number of questions in regard to this, the most important being the impact on the land border, the issue being raised this morning. There are no plans to introduce any controls on the land border between North and South. All the British authorities are examining is increased co-operation in cross-Border operations with a focus on targeting illegal immigration across the Border. They have done preliminary work over the past 18 months which shows how the Border is being abused. The Deputy raised a question regarding some of the people involved. More than 90% of illegal immigration comes not through our airports or ports but across the Border and that is being organised and not merely happening. We have not had figures until now. It is interesting that various systems are being put together looking at the issues such as catching immigration offenders, apprehending criminals, particularly serious criminals, collecting immigration trend data and strengthening border controls. All of these issues are of interest to us and the fact they are being dealt with can also help us.

The e-border system is being led by the Home Office Border & Immigration Agency in partnership with the Police, the UK Visa Services, Revenue and Customs. The system will operate by electronically collecting and analysing passenger information in advance of travel. It is not a unique system. It is based on the US and Spanish systems, both of which have been in operation for some time. The information available from the machine readable zone of a passport will be passed to the Border & Immigration Agency's centre for matching various immigration, police and other watch lists containing details of persons of interest. It is a good system, the benefit of which is that the movements of people who are on watch lists, as they are called, will be available.

In so far as it affects us in the context of the common travel area, Ireland and Great Britain have operated an arrangement for many years, co-operating to ensure that our respective immigration procedures will continue. Obviously there will be some changes in the system. The common travel area has facilitated members of the public in both jurisdictions but in recent years it has moved beyond that to a situation where most passenger carriers require passports and driving licences. We will continue to keep a close eye on the system. The British authorities are working on this and keeping us informed. They are determined to have a proper, technologically driven border system that co-ordinates their various services. It is a positive development and it is in our interests to co-operate on it.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Taoiseach for that information. The basis of the Schengen Agreement was that persons entering Europe would have to have their documentation examined. If they were not European Union citizens and their documentation was not in order they would be sent back to where they came from. Some serious scams have been going on in a number of countries with people purchasing two tickets in order to enter Britain in particular and then, in some cases, coming here. I understand this is a long-term project, that we do not want a return to Border customs controls between here and Northern Ireland given where we are in regard to the Good Friday Agreement, and that that is not envisaged in terms of the land border.

Does the Taoiseach consider that Ireland should again examine the possibility of opting into the Schengen Agreement in view of the proposal which will take effect in due course? Will he discuss with Prime Minister Brown the question of opting into the Schengen Agreement and the fact that Britain opted out previously and Ireland had to follow because of the existence of the common travel area? If Great Britain intends to have an electronic border around the British Isles, Scotland, England and Wales, what does that mean in terms of entry to Northern Ireland from Great Britain? If no land border controls between the Republic and the Six Counties involving the inspection of passports are envisaged, does that mean that somebody who gets into Britain illegally by whatever scam can then travel to Northern Ireland and into the Republic unhindered?

The Taoiseach brought 14 eminent people with him — perhaps they were not brought from here but at least 14 turned up — to the match in Paris, a really strong back-up team. If they had gone out and played there might have been a better result than was achieved on the field.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Not all travelled with me. A few joined me on the way.

Regarding whether this will impose restrictions on travel between Great Britain and Ireland, which is the issue that concerns us, the answer is "no". The e-border system is a consequence of the heightened awareness of security risks associated with international travel and is born out of a desire to prevent security risks from entering the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. The popular conception of the common travel area has already been diminished by the air carriers' response to increasing security fears and the terror threat facing Great Britain. Practically all of them now insist on passport checks. The system is designed to increase the safety of the travelling public and the citizens of both countries.

On the question of whether this is the end of the common travel area and should we join Schengen, the answer is "no". The system is designed to increase the safety of the travelling public and the citizens of both countries. For most Irish and British citizens the most significant benefit of the common travel area over the years has been the ability to travel within the area without an identity document. However, in view of the changed nature of security operations in the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, air carriers now require Irish and British citizens to produce satisfactory identification. It does not have to be a passport but, increasingly, it is a passport. When the British e-border system is fully developed, all air and sea passengers will require a valid passport to facilitate a journey.

For the information of the House, officials from our immigration system, aware for the past two years that Britain is doing this, has been examining the possibility of developing an Irish border system which would be similar in some ways to the British system. Passenger information will be collected by carriers and sent to a border operations centre to be screened against watch lists. It is intended to produce a full memorandum in the new year. We will be examining issues of border security, organised crime and international trends. What affects us most is people entering the UK illegally and coming across the Border to the Republic. I was surprised by the figures. I believed illegal immigrants were using ferry ports and airports. However the figures, which are conclusive, show that more than 90% come via the Border with Northern Ireland. It explains certain things that have been happening over the past few years. The collection and analysis of passenger information is rapidly becoming a feature of international travel. The common travel area is not gone but it is changed fundamentally because of the security position. If the UK is doing this, the sensible thing is for Ireland to develop its electronic border system and to then exchange information, as we would anyway in respect of serious terrorists or those who are being watched internationally. That will tighten up border operations considerably. Obviously, movement between North and South is different given the commitments under the Good Friday Agreement and neither the British Government nor the Irish Government wants to make changes in that regard.

The provision of tighter systems by the British and Irish Governments will allow for a greater exchange of information between both countries and will close off the loopholes being exploited by those people who are making money out of this.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I want to pursue a little further the ending of the common travel area and the proposed requirement from 2009 onwards to produce a passport when entering Britain. As I understand it, if I take a ferry from my constituency in Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead, I will have to produce a passport in Holyhead, but if I drive up to Larne and take a ferry from there to Stranraer, I will not have to produce a passport. A person travelling from Dublin to Belfast for a flight to Heathrow will not, under the new service, have to produce a passport, but conversely a person with a British passport travelling from Northern Ireland to Dublin and on to a UK destination will have to produce a British passport to travel in what he or she considers his or her own country.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Exactly.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I appreciate and understand what the Taoiseach said about carriers having introduced new requirements regarding identification and so on in recent years, but this change in our relationship with our neighbouring island is dramatic as it will impact on the ordinary citizen. It is probably far more dramatic than many of the formal, diplomatic, institutional, intergovernmental things that have been going on for some years about which there has been a great deal of attention.

When did this proposal appear on the Government's radar? For how long has this been under consideration? Is this a UK initiated proposal or has there been negotiation on it and, if so, what negotiations have taken place between the Irish and British Governments in this regard? The Taoiseach stated in his reply that the UK authorities are keeping us informed. That is very good of them, we appreciate that, but I would have thought an issue of this magnitude, which will impact on the way in which we as individuals interact with our neighbouring island, would have been the subject of serious discussions between the Irish and British Governments. We have a major interest in this. An issue also arises in respect of the land border. I am interested to hear a little more about what has been happening in this regard.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It is a British system. The proposal was put forward at the end of 2005 as part of Britain's response to international terrorism and the global difficulties that has created for the UK. They provided us with a preliminary outline of the proposed e-borders programme in the first instance. They indicated that a consultation document would be produced and they have done that. We have co-operated with them on this since then.

Deputy Gilmore is correct that this is an issue of considerable interest. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is working in close co-operation with the British authorities in respect of this change to the system. From our point of view, we have drawn up a consultation document in respect of our system and we have created a base for examining it as matters progress.

The memorandum, which gives an account of the new system, states that Great Britain is currently developing a new border control system, e-borders, to meet the challenges of the marked increase in international travel with the increased threat of illegal immigration, serious and organised crime and terrorism. The e-border system is being led by the Home Office Border and Immigration Agency in partnership with the police, the UK Visa Service and Revenue and Customs. The system will operate by electronically collecting and analysing passenger information in advance of travel based, as I said, on the US and Spanish systems. The information available from the machine readable zone of a passport will be passed to a border immigration agency operations centre for matching against various immigration, police and other watchlists containing details of persons of interest. There will be a variety of watchlists, including immigration, police, customs, revenue, lost and stolen passports, Interpol and other sources and EU countries. Every area of information will be centralised.

The procedure will result in an alert if a person travelling is on a watchlist. Any action on foot of the alert will be determined by frontline officials. For example, if a wanted rapist is detected, it may be decided to confront and arrest him on landing. However, if the person is suspected of drug smuggling it may be decided to opt for surveillance. There will be a tracking system. The benefits of the system to the British authorities will be its awareness in respect of whether a person of interest has entered or left Britain, the catching of immigration offenders and criminals, especially serious criminals, the collection of information and immigration trend data and the strengthening of border controls. This is the reason for its introduction.

From our point of view, a number of issues arise, namely, the land border issue. The British Government has no plans to introduce controls on the land border. On whether this will impose a restriction on travel between Great Britain and Ireland, the answer is no, it will not. I have read the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform memorandum on this. The popular conception is that the common travel area will be diminished. However, the number of passengers not showing passports or other identification is small in terms of overall numbers. In future people will be required to produce a passport when entering Britain. That will be the ultimate position. The system will not work if people do not do so. People moving into the UK will have to produce a passport. Obviously, these are the anticipated arrangements. This is a ten-year project and the British is in its second year of it. We are fully involved in terms of the details and networks. We have not yet brought to Cabinet a comprehensive memorandum on this matter.

On hearing of this proposal towards the end of 2005 our officials undertook to examine and put together an Irish system. That system is being developed within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Deputies may obtain additional information if they table a parliamentary question on the matter to the Minister. The immigration section of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is approximately two years into its work on this. The proposal relates to the movement of people and security issues. Hardly a week goes by that a person who is being tracked by Interpol and so on enters this country. The position is the same in every country, there is no exception. In a modern world, to avoid tragedies and the hijacking of planes, terrorist activities and so on, this is the way forward internationally.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I understand that there may be a good case for this, particularly in the context of both States being outside of Schengen. Is the logic of that not the creation of an external border around both islands and the exercise of those controls on people originating from places outside the two islands? Why does it require that people from the Republic of Ireland will have to produce passports on entering the UK when people travelling from Northern Ireland will not have to do so? I do not understand that. Rapists and terrorists, all the people one wishes to pick up through this system, are surely smart enough to know that if they travel through Belfast they will not be caught. What is the point of applying it between the island of Britain and the Republic of Ireland but not in Northern Ireland? It does not make sense. I would understand if it was applied on the external borders of the two islands and then have a system of free travel — as we have had — within the two islands.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I imagine that those who will design the British system and our system will take account of that. I am not a designer of electronic systems but I am sure they will take these issues into account.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin can design it, after PPARS.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

We will leave them at it. We can design our system to deal with people who move into our country but there must be a relationship between our system and the British system.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

How can we agree to it if we do not know how it will work?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

While this is the main issue for us, Britain, Spain, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Belgium, Finland and most of the other states are considering similar systems. Ultimately, either through Interpol or Europol, these systems will have to work together.

Our difficulty is our land border. In the development of the British and Irish systems those involved in the project team will find ways around it. The old common travel area no longer works. For security reasons people are being asked to show identification. That identification will inevitably become passports as passports become the central way of tracking and communicating information. There will be a need to increase border security. It is also desirable to deny entry to those who do not qualify for entry to Ireland. We must examine these issues. That is being abused in a large way at present. We must take account of that.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

They would not permit the Ceann Comhairle to travel from Cork.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Ceann Comhairle; Kerry South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context

That was Cork bias.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The memorandum with the full detail of our system and the British system will not be provided to the Government until the new year.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Taoiseach is aware that the reform treaty is not the constitutional treaty. It is written in a most opaque, unintelligible, illegible fashion. Referendums can be won and lost on the simplest things. One is the lack of transparency and the perception that there is something suspicious about a document one cannot understand. Does the Taoiseach intend to provide a legible document for every citizen, clearly identifying the main provisions of the reform treaty? The National Forum for Europe has credibility and widespread representation of establishment figures and non-governmental figures. Perhaps the Government would provide the funding to enable that body to produce the document.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Can the Taoiseach confirm that 90% of illegal immigrants come from across the Border? If so, is a breakdown of nationality and numbers available? How can we be sure of the accuracy of such figures?

Does the Taoiseach find it ironic that Ireland is discussing additional security measures with Britain when both countries opted out of the justice and home affairs section of the reform treaty? Can the Taoiseach state whether opting out of the justice and home affairs section was discussed in the discussions on the draft EU constitution, which the Taoiseach correctly hailed as a good document at the time? Did he or the Government have concerns about availing of an opt out at that time?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Can the Taoiseach explain a contradiction in what he said? He stated that we will examine introducing new border security measures for Ireland, presumably in airports, ports and along the coast, however, we would not seek increased security on the Border between North and South. At the same time, the Taoiseach informed us that 90% of illegal immigration occurs along that Border.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I said that we will need further Border controls.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Between North and South. That has clarified it.

Several people have tried to have the following matter clarified. What will be the position for someone travelling from Dublin to Belfast and on to Britain? Will that person need a passport? Under the proposed electronic border control system, will one be able to travel between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain without a passport? If so, the whole system is a sham. People who wish to avoid detection will travel to Northern Ireland and across to Britain and vice versa. If we are to introduce a similar system, as the Taoiseach suggests, how can we control the flow of people who may wish to travel from Britain to the Republic of Ireland through Northern Ireland? We have no control over the border system in Northern Ireland and so we are at a disadvantage. Britain can control access on to its island but Ireland does not have the capacity to do so. We have been briefed on this issue over a period of time. Surely the Taoiseach has asked that basic question.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Regarding Deputy Costello's point, in recent referendums we prepared a document that was sent to every household. We have not decided whether that will be done by the Forum for Europe or the Department of Foreign Affairs, which dealt with it previously. We have put much effort and resources into the Forum for Europe in recent years and it will be an important vehicle for the referendum.

One of the disadvantages in moving from the draft EU constitution to the reform treaty has been identified by Deputy Costello. The constitutional treaty was a single comprehensive document, written in simple terms. The reform treaty is an amendment to treaties. Deputy Costello is correct that we must make it a simpler document. Amendments to treaties must refer to the original treaties, which make it difficult unless one is dealing with them every day of the week. Very few people come within that category. It is very confusing so we must have a simplified version. That is possible.

Deputy Timmins referred to justice and home affairs. We opted in on issues of police co-operation and confiscation of assets. Our intention is to opt out only in areas where we are obliged to because of our common law system. Our declaration, which will be with the treaty, will make clear that it is our intention to opt in as far as is practicable. There are only some limited areas in which we must opt out. There will be no difficulty for us and I made it very clear last weekend that our position is to opt in as much as possible. That is understood by our European colleagues.

With regard to Deputy Coveney's point, I have read the document on the issue and suggest it might be best for him to raise the matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Staff in our naturalisation and immigration service have examined the possibility of setting up an Irish system for the last two years. They have examined the British system and the possibility of developing an Irish version thereof. A project development team has been put in place to develop an Irish border information system. The team includes representatives from the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda Síochána, the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Social and Family Affairs, and Transport. The team has approved the development of the system, which will be similar to the one in place in Britain. People will be screened against immigration data, information from the Garda Síochána and watch lists. It is considered prudent to develop the system incrementally. It is intended to commence with a number of long haul air routes and perhaps one watch list, increasing over a period of two years, adding more carriers, routes and watch lists until all passenger movements are covered. The team believes that the capture of data by the Irish border information system in respect of passenger travel within the common travel area is a matter which requires careful consideration. Passenger journeys between the South and Great Britain account for 40% of passenger traffic. Almost half of the traffic that the service will have to catch goes through Northern Ireland. The team is in the process of developing the system. Its work has only begun and the system will develop incrementally. Given that 40% of the entire traffic will be between the South and Great Britain, one can see the extent of the challenge. The system will take approximately ten years to develop fully and we are currently on year two.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Ceann Comhairle; Kerry South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The allotted time has expired but Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Burton have been waiting for some time so I will allow them to ask a brief supplementary question.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

As an Irish republican, does the Taoiseach not see that the only logical position would be to have a common travel area of the island as a whole, where one amalgamates both police services on the island as well as administration and customs? That would address many of the practical difficulties. Given the timeframe, the Taoiseach has obviously given up on any hope of reunification by 2016.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Will the Taoiseach explain the situation regarding the Republic and Northern Ireland? If a person flies between Dublin and Belfast, or vice versa, will there be a special channel for all-Ireland travellers or will he or she go into a common channel? The practical implications of this, particularly in an all-island context, must be addressed. Most people in the Republic would like to think it would operate in an all-island context. Does the Taoiseach know whether the First Minister, Mr. Paisley has had time to think about this issue? Has the Taoiseach had an opportunity to discuss the matter with him? Has any costing been drawn up for the system? I understand that the cost of the UK's e-borders project is horrendous and is potentially worse than the cost of wiring up the NHS. Has a ballpark figure been estimated for the cost on this island?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

In response to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, the project team is only commencing its work. It would make sense to co-operate with the UK authorities on this matter and try to operate on an all-island basis, as far as possible. I see this an opportunity for deeper co-operation rather than the opposite. In terms of costs, our naturalisation and immigration service have been examining the issue and Deputy Burton will have to address her question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.