Dáil debates

Friday, 13 November 2015

Freedom of Movement (Common Travel Area) (Travel Documentation) Bill 2014: Second Stage [Private Members]


11:10 am

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Renua Ireland)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I note it is Friday the 13th but I hope that will not go against me and the Minister of State might accept this Bill. The issue of a potential "Brexit" is on the mind of nearly every Member of the House. Earlier this week, the Taoiseach was in London and met British Prime Minister David Cameron, discussing the potential for a Brexit. The Bill before the House is timely, regardless of what will happen in that referendum in the United Kingdom, as it will enhance and secure our relationship with our closest neighbours with respect to open travel.

As I stated in the House when I introduced the Bill last year, it provides for passport-free travel for qualifying persons travelling within the common travel area. The common travel area can be a grey area in law and causes confusion for people travelling within it as to what types of identification are required. As we know, the common travel area is supposed to be a border-free zone - in theory at least - between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. It is an abnormal area of the law with practical implications and associated political sensitivity.

Before I delve into the Bill and what it proposes, I will comment on the land border that Ireland shares with the United Kingdom in light of a potential Brexit. Many people have spoken about the implications of this land border, which cuts through many farmyards in Border counties. Some have said that if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, passport controls will be reinstated. I do not believe that will be the case if the United Kingdom decides, unfortunately, to leave the European Union. Passport and border controls along the Northern Irish Border are not inevitable in the case of a Brexit. We know protocol 20, which deals with the application of certain aspects of Article 26 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to the United Kingdom and Ireland, which is annexed to the European Union treaties, means that EU law recognises the common travel area. It acknowledges the special travel arrangements between the countries in that borders in the traditional sense have never existed.

In the case of a Brexit, the Northern Irish Border would become an external EU border but this is irrelevant for passport and border control because neither the United Kingdom nor Ireland is party to the Schengen area. Instead, they operate the common travel area between them. If anything, the recent introduction of reciprocal visa arrangements for third state nationals through the British-Irish visa scheme has strengthened the ties that the two states have on their own border policies. British and Irish border policies between the two states as part of the common travel area will continue to be separate from either state's membership of the European Union. Customs matters, on the other hand, are relevant, but that is beyond the scope of the common travel area that we deal with today.

Although there is no absolute requirement to present a passport for travel within the common travel area for Irish or British citizens, the reality is very different.

The legislation I am proposing is to ensure that a transport operator, such as an airline, leaving from an Irish point of departure cannot demand the carrying of a passport from an Irish citizen travelling within the common travel area. I am going to outline two established practices that prove the common travel area has, over time, been weakened instead of strengthened.

The first is one of which all Deputies will be aware. On arrival in Dublin Airport, all persons, regardless of where they are flying from, must produce identification to enter the State. By not having a different stream in Dublin Airport for arrivals from other airports in Ireland and the United Kingdom, Irish airports are out of kilter with UK practice. When one arrives at any of the London airports from Dublin, for example, one does not enter through immigration managed by the UK Border Agency. Instead, one enters via a separate channel marked "Domestic UK flights and from Ireland." Dublin Airport provides no equivalent arrangements for "Domestic Irish flights and [those] from the United Kingdom." This clearly demonstrates that the practice adopted by the Irish National Immigration Service is not in the spirit of the common travel area.

The second practice is carried out by one prominent airline in particular, which does not let Irish citizens board its aircraft in Ireland without producing a valid passport. This applies to its flights to mainland Europe, entering the Schengen area, and this is fine; however, it even requires passengers to produce a passport on flights to the United Kingdom from Ireland, and, in the past when the airline operated flights within Ireland, on such flights, which is very wrong.

Current legislation does not prohibit any carrier involved in transporting people within the common travel area from seeking appropriate confirmation of their identity. I appreciate that these are the terms and conditions that travellers sign up to when they purchase tickets. However, the requirement for Irish citizens to produce a passport is an unnecessary hindrance to what the common travel area is supposed to be about. Other airlines flying between Ireland and the United Kingdom do not mandate all passengers to carry passports and they accept any other relevant identification matching the name on the passenger's ticket. These airlines operate in the spirit of the common travel area. If some airlines can do this, why is it not possible for all airlines to be mandated to do so for a better, more streamlined common travel area?

The immigration practice at Irish airports, and the operational methods used by a particular airline flying within Ireland and the United Kingdom, collectively undermine the common travel area. The crux of the matter here is that currently no real common travel area exists. My Bill aims to bring about a more inclusive, coherent and sensible common travel area. This would make travel between Ireland and the United Kingdom, within the common travel area, much easier for everyone. It would also prohibit a travel carrier from obliging persons entitled to avail of the common travel area to use passports. This would bring all airlines into line with established practices among the vast majority of airlines operating within the common travel area. It would allow means of identification other than a passport to be produced, such as a valid driver's licence, a student card, a Garda age card or a work identification card including a photograph. It would put an end to the current prohibitive and confusing practices.

There is currently no legislation specifically aimed at governing the travel documents required for travel within the common travel area. The common travel area operated for a long time under administrative arrangements between Ireland and the United Kingdom. It was the judiciary that legitimised it as a point of public policy in Kweder v.Minister for Justice in 1996. A significant judgment for the common travel area came from the High Court in 2011 in Pachero v. Minister for Justice and Equality. The presiding judge, Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan, called the common travel area "a misnomer," stating that "the common travel area has long ceased to be a genuine passport free travel area," and that ''[c]onfusion abounds regarding the limits of the common travel area." The court went as far as to say that further legal aspects of the common travel area will arise again beyond the immediate set of individual circumstances in that case.

While substantial legal overhaul of the common travel area may be needed, this Bill attempts to address some aspects of it. With the introduction of the new passport cards this year, travel between Ireland and the United Kingdom will theoretically be easier for those who possess the card. The introduction of this card had not been announced publicly when I introduced this Bill last year. However, it does not take away from the fact that problems still exist for real passport-free travel within the common travel area. Passports have a significant cost for the individual. They cost €95 over the counter, and a further €35 for a passport card, giving a minimum total of €130. That is a significant amount of money, especially for pensioners. It is becoming prohibitive. Previously, it was free for pensioners to get passports, but that was taken away a number of years ago as part of other cutbacks. Perhaps that is something that could be reconsidered in the future. For British citizens, no such passport card exists, and they do not have national ID cards, like other EU member states. Therefore, British citizens could be still mandated to carry their passports when visiting Ireland, within the common travel area, on certain airlines. Instead, we should be allowing passengers travelling within the common travel area to use the recommended acceptable forms of photo identification, instead of encouraging people to carry a passport.

This Bill would allow carriers to continue to operate identification checks for passengers for travel in the common travel area. However, they would no longer be allowed to compel qualifying persons transiting within the common travel area to present or carry a passport. I trust the Minister of State, Deputy English, along with his officials, will take what I have proposed into consideration. Perhaps we can look at other ways of ensuring the integrity of the common travel area by incorporating some of the ideas I and other speakers mention today into amendments in proposed future legislation. We must do all we can to preserve, protect, and enhance the common travel area. The common travel area is supposed to be passportless and we should do everything to make it this way. It is in Ireland's, and the United Kingdom's, interest that the common travel area be as meaningful and as bureaucracy-free as it can be.

11:20 am

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to be here on a Friday and am pleased to have the opportunity, on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to address the House and to respond on behalf of the Government to the Freedom of Movement (Common Travel Area) (Travel Documentation) Bill 2014, which has been introduced by Deputy Terence Flanagan. I thank the Deputy for outlining the objectives of his short Bill and apologise that the Minister herself could not be here to take it, as she would have preferred. In a nutshell, the Deputy is seeking to provide for a situation in which carriers will not be allowed to request the passport of a passenger for identity purposes where the passenger is permitted to travel within the common travel area.

There is no statutory requirement on a person who is from Ireland or the UK, or who is subject to EU freedom of movement regulations, availing of the common travel area, CTA, to be in possession of a passport when entering the State. However, for a variety of practical reasons, most such nationals travelling by air or sea will have in their possession a passport, travel document or other form of identity that establishes their nationality.

In view of the changed nature of travel security, especially the heightened awareness of the security risks associated with airline travel since 9-11, air carriers require travellers on all routes, including within the CTA, to produce a satisfactory identification document for travel, usually a driving licence or passport, and a particular carrier will permit travel only on presentation of a passport or national identification card. The relevant provisions in this regard are set out in section 11 of the Immigration Act 2004 as amended by section 34(a) of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011.

The CTA has existed since 1922, except for a brief period during the Second World War years, reflecting the ties of history and kinship between our two countries, and also labour market and business needs. The protection of the CTA arrangement has long been regarded as a legitimate and fundamental public policy priority for both the Irish and UK Governments. Co-operation on CTA matters between the two jurisdictions is excellent and very strong.

Under this Government, this co-operation was given added impetus with the signing in 2011 between the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, and the then UK Minister for Immigration of a joint statement on common travel area co-operation, which included a joint work programme in the area of data sharing, visas and electronic borders management systems. The joint statement identified the following aims for CTA co-operation: to facilitate the movement of legitimate travellers within the CTA; to identify and develop further measures to enhance economic development between the two jurisdictions; to prevent individuals intent on abusing the arrangement from travelling to the CTA; to support and facilitate the return of individuals to their country of origin where they do reach or enter the CTA unlawfully; and to develop ways of challenging the credibility of visa and asylum applications where appropriate and develop mechanisms of re-documentation.

A fundamental feature of the CTA arrangement is the freedom of movement for persons travelling between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which continues to be of immense importance to the economic, social and cultural well-being of both jurisdictions. It is essential that the benefits derived from this arrangement are not undermined by illegal movement, criminal activity or threats to security in either jurisdiction.

A central feature of the operation of the CTA has been that each state enforces the others conditions of landing for non-nationals. The current manifestation of this requirement can be found in section 4(3)(h) of the Immigration Act 2004, which empowers an Irish immigration office to refuse entry to the State to a non-national where the officer is satisfied that the non-national intends to travel, whether immediately or not, to Great Britain or Northern Ireland, and would not qualify for admission to Great Britain or Northern Ireland if he or she arrived there from a place other than the State. To that end it is, and has always been, the case that there is close co-operation between the Irish and British immigration authorities on a strategic and operational basis.

The programme of work under the joint statement has given rise to the highly successful Irish short stay visa waiver programme, which was announced by the Government as part of its jobs initiative with a view to promoting tourism from emerging markets. It commenced on 1 July 2011. Under the programme, certain visas issued by the authorities of the United Kingdom are recognised for the purposes of travel to Ireland. However, it has some limitations, such as the fact that it allows for travel only in one direction.

Accordingly, in June 2014, the Minister formally announced the introduction of the British-Irish visa scheme, BIVS, between Ireland and the United Kingdom, which commenced in the autumn of that year. This was a landmark development in CTA co-operation. At the time, she stated that it marked an historic development in the relationship between Ireland and the UK and in the operation of the CTA. The BIVS allows for travel to and around the CTA on a single visa. The scheme applies to visitors from China and India, and the plan is to roll it out to other visa nationals in due course.

Under the scheme, visitors are able to travel freely within the CTA using either an Irish or UK visa. This means tourists, business visitors, etc., are able, for the first time, to visit both Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland, on a single visa. This co-operation not only results in greater facilitation of legitimate travellers than heretofore, but it has made a positive contribution to tourism and jobs, as the tourism industry has acknowledged.

Turning to the Bill before us, any proposal which has implications for the CTA requires close and careful scrutiny. While I understand the intention and motivation behind the Bill, it could have potentially serious consequences not intended by the Deputy which, in certain instances, could undermine the effectiveness of immigration control and put at risk the protection of the CTA. Section 1 provides for an amendment to section 11 of the Immigration Act 2004 by the insertion of a new provision for the current subsection (4). This new provision repeals the current subsection (4) and provides for the insertion of a new subsection (4A) which is the substantial provision of the Bill.

Section 11(1) of the 2004 Act, as amended, provides that every person, other than minors, landing in the State is required to have a valid passport. Section 11(2) requires every person landing or embarking from the State to furnish, inter alia, their passport. Section 11(3) makes it an offence to breach section 11. Section 11(4) provides that section 11 does not apply to persons, other than non-nationals, coming from, or embarking for, a place in the State, Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

The Department of Justice and Equality has consulted with the Office of the Attorney General on the Bill and a number of legal difficulties have been identified with the new section 4A which give cause for concern. Section 11(4) of the Immigration Act 2004 exempts persons, other than non-nationals, who are travelling within the CTA from the passport control measures provided for under section 11 of the 2004 Act. The provision in the new section 11(4A) purports to provide a general exemption from passport control cutting across all legislation, and not just section 4 of the 2004 Act.

In fulfilling their duties at the frontiers of the State, members of the Garda Síochána and INIS immigration officers utilise a range of legislative provisions under the Immigration Acts and, in the case of the Garda Síochána, other legislative powers such as the Air Navigation and Transport Acts. For example, under section 33 of the Air Navigation and Transport Act 1988, a member of the Garda Síochána as an authorised officer for the purposes of the Act, may, in the interest of the proper operation or the security or safety of an aerodrome, or the security or safety of persons, aircraft or other property thereon, require any person on an aerodrome to give his or her name and address and to produce other evidence of his or her identity; state the purpose of his or her being on the aerodrome; and account for any baggage or other property which may be in his or her possession. In circumstances where a garda has reason to believe that the person has a passport which would satisfy the requirements, it would be unreasonably restrictive that he or she cannot demand that it be produced in such circumstances. The situation becomes more invidious in cases involving criminality, including child abduction and human trafficking.

Whereas section 11(4) exempts persons, other than non-nationals, who are travelling within the CTA from passport control under section 11 of the 2004 Act, the new section 11(4A) would purport to provide a general exemption from passport control in respect of any "person who is entitled to avail of transit within the CTA without the requirement to carry a passport" which category is not restricted to persons excluding non-nationals and regardless of whether the person so entitled is travelling within the CTA. At the very least, the provision is ambiguous, and, conceivably, its implementation could cause chaos at our borders with passengers claiming a general exemption from passport controls. This scenario could have the further, albeit unintended, outcomes regarding the matter I mentioned earlier, namely, that a key feature of CTA co-operation is that each State enforces the others conditions of landing for non-nationals. The relevant legislative provision is section 4(3)(h) of the 2004 Act. The concern is that new section 11 (4A) could compromise the effect of section 4(3)(h) of the 2004 Act in that the latter provision operates on the basis that immigration officers have the power, inter alia, to confirm that a non-national has a valid passport.

Incongruously, the amendment could result in immigration officers being faced with non-nationals who might assert an entitlement to travel without a passport yet in respect of whom the immigration officer may have a concern that section 4(3)(h) applies. It is a key power in the protection of the CTA external border, and, were it to be compromised in any way, it would have serious consequences for the operation of the CTA.

The proposed section 11(4A) is predicated on the assumption that the "Common Travel Area" is a legislative term of art. It is not. Notwithstanding that it is referenced in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the CTA is an agreement between Ireland and the UK that has manifested in law, rather than itself being a matter of any legal treaty between the two states.

Accordingly, if the proposed provision is to be effective, the CTA will have to be defined in national law. Ultimately, and this applies to my earlier comments on the proposed section 11(4A) of the 2004 Act, it is not clear who would be "entitled to avail of transit within the Common Travel Area without the requirement to carry a passport" under the proposed section 11(4A). Such uncertainty would make it all but impossible to implement this provision. The explanatory memorandum makes it clear that this Bill is seeking to address conditions in respect of identity documents imposed by carriers which the Deputy considers should not be imposed by carriers. It is the view of the Office of the Attorney General that the proposed section 11(4A) would have no effect on carriers but would prohibit the Garda Síochána and other State agencies from exercising certain powers. Therefore, there is dissonance between the intent of the Bill and its effect, with its effect being potentially to undermine the capacity of immigration officers to protect the integrity of the CTA.

The Minister accepts that the matters I have set out with regard to the Bill were not the Deputy's intended outcome when he introduced this legislation. However, she hopes he will accept that the proposal is seriously flawed and is not something she or the Government could support. The Minister would reiterate the point that any legislation that has an impact on the CTA arrangement requires close and careful consideration. Her current legislative priority in the asylum and immigration area is the enactment of the international protection Bill. She hopes that Deputies will co-operate in the early passage of that Bill through the Dáil. The Minister for Justice and Equality proposes to introduce further legislation in the immigration area subsequent to the international protection Bill. Any issues concerning the CTA could be examined in that context at that stage. Perhaps the Deputy will be able to contribute to the debate on that legislation when it takes place.

11:40 am

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil supports the Bill proposed by Deputy Terence Flanagan, which would offer passport-free travel to qualifying people who are travelling within the common travel area, which comprises the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The Bill proposes that no transport operator can demand that a qualifying person, such as a citizen of Ireland, the UK or elsewhere within the European economic area, who travels within the common travel area should require a passport to do so. Although the common travel area between Ireland and the UK has been in operation since the 1920s, it is not specifically provided for in legislation. The first legal recognition of this common travel area was contained in the Treaty of Amsterdam. As a result of the existence of the common travel area, no passport controls are in operation for Irish and UK citizens travelling between the two countries. One does not need to have a passport to enter the other country. All air and sea carriers require some form of identification and some regard a passport as the only valid form of identification. That is where these problems arise.

Immigration authorities may require a traveller to have valid official photo identification which shows his or her nationality. When he introduced this Bill, Deputy Flanagan referred to this as "a grey area [that] can cause confusion to people travelling within the common travel area as to what forms of identification are required." He also referred to the case of a businessman who was not allowed by an unnamed airline to board a flight to the UK, where he was due to do business, on the basis that he was not carrying a passport. I am reminded of an incident earlier this year when a rugby referee from Wales who was flying to this country from Bristol to officiate at a Leinster game was prevented from travelling by Ryanair because of the absence of a passport. Aer Lingus stepped in to facilitate the referee in that case. Deputy Flanagan rightly referred to the case of the businessman he raised as an example of red tape. When businesses complain about the burden of regulation, they are usually referring to red tape imposed by the State. In this case, one business was imposing a regulation on another. It is interesting to note that Ryanair previously called on the European Commission to reduce the regulatory burden costs on all airlines. Similarly, Ryanair once challenged the insistence by Hungarian border police that flight crews landing briefly in Budapest should disembark and undergo security checks before flying out again.

On First Stage, Deputy Flanagan stated:

It is my hope that if enacted, the new legislation will make travel between Ireland and the UK much easier, and qualifying people will no longer be required to present a passport when visiting the areas in question. Instead, a valid driver's licence, a student card, a Garda age card or a work identification card including a photograph would be accepted by all airlines.

While that would be most welcome, what would prevent an airline from requiring a passport in the parts of the common travel area outside the jurisdiction for which the Members of this House can legislate? I understand that as part of Ryanair's new customer-friendly focus, its website now allows any photo identification which matches the passenger name in the booking to be used on UK domestic flights. Like Aer Lingus, Ryanair allows children under the age of 16 who are travelling with an adult on UK domestic flights to travel without photo identification. However, it is still putting limitations on flights between Ireland and the UK by allowing people to travel only if they are carrying a valid passport. By contrast, CityJet allows people to travel with a driver's licence with photograph, a national identification card or a Government-issued photo identification card. Ryanair says that travel between Ireland and the UK is international transit, which is true, but there are exceptions to all rules. I suggest that it should respect the agreement that has been in place on these islands since the 1920s.

It is obvious that when one raises the subject of the common travel area, the subject of the United Kingdom's possible exit from the EU, or Brexit, cannot be far behind. Our party has warned that if Britain votes to leave the EU, it will have a huge impact on Ireland and on the Border region in particular. There is enormous concern that a Brexit could destabilise the relationship between Ireland and Britain as well as having serious consequences for our economy. The implications of a Brexit are not confined to economic issues. The fallout would be felt more severely in Ireland than in many other EU countries because we are the only country to have a land border with Britain. There is concern that a Brexit could even see the reintroduction of EU border controls. In the event of the UK exiting the European Union, Ireland's Border with Northern Ireland will be the UK's only land border with the EU.

Obviously, the common travel area, CTA, predates the European Union and indeed our membership of it. As both Ireland and the UK joined the EU, or the EEC as it was then, at the same time, there was never any question about the continuation of the CTA. In December 2011, the Irish and UK Governments agreed measures within the EU to secure the external CTA border. A statement was signed working towards joint standards for entry and, ultimately, enhanced electronic border systems to identify those with no right to enter the CTA before they arrive at the border. An accompanying memorandum also promoted the exchange of information such as fingerprint biometrics and biographical details, particularly from high-risk countries, as part of the visa-issuing process. This data exchange aims to preventing abuses of the CTA arrangement while protecting the long-established benefits of trade and tourism. It was hoped that it would create considerable savings for both countries on removing foreign nationals with no right to stay. Nonetheless, a common travel area that includes an external EU border could well be significant and might raise considerable challenges for the open-border policy between the UK and Ireland.

We have to bear in mind that immigration is one of the key factors that underpins the antipathy to the EU in the UK. The Conservative Party manifesto for the UK general election in May of this year berated the Labour Party Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for "their open borders policy". The Tories suggested that "for the past five years, we have been working to turn around the situation we inherited" and argued that "our action has not been enough to cut annual net migration to the tens of thousands [but] that ambition remains the right one". It is not impossible that issues with the CTA may arise over the next few years. We will rightly retain our commitment to free movement within the EU. I hope any obstacles will be overcome quickly. I remind the House that Norway, which is not in the EU, and Sweden have free movement between them. There is no reason that could not happen for Ireland and the UK in the event of a Brexit.

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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On the face of it, this Bill makes sense. The requirement to present a passport for valid travel is one that has private origins within Ryanair.

If the Irish and British Governments have negotiated and agreed a common travel area for British and Irish citizens, Ryanair, or any other group, should not have the right to ignore that. Irish citizens benefit when there is no requirement to use a passport when travelling to Britain. Quite often, this is due to unfortunate circumstances within the State. Historically, people in Ireland relied on the common travel area when taking the boat for both economic and social reasons. The current cost of a standard ten-year passport is €80. This is more than the cost of some return flights to Britain and is a significant sum of money for many of those compelled to travel to Britain for pressing economic and social reasons.

Ryanair's requirement for passengers to present a passport makes sense from an internal efficiency viewpoint because its staff will have a limited number of ideas to be familiar with, to recognise and process. From its point of view it is efficient to do so. I assume it also reduces the number of scarce IT resources needed to record and process different types of identification and so reduces internal transaction costs. This decision has the effect of displacing transaction costs to the external travelling populace. Despite the special agreement between the Irish and British Governments, a private company is permitted to impose its own obligations on citizens who would otherwise be free to avail of the benefits of the common travel area. At present, the travelling populace is compelled to produce a passport which obviates the possibility of using some other form of photographic ID such as driving licence, student ID, Garda vetting ID or social welfare ID. The current position is detrimental to overall public welfare.

Our European partners may have valid grounds for complaint if Ireland and Britain give each other advantages which they do not give to other EU countries and citizens. I recall a colleague travelling with a European Parliament delegation to County Meath. When they arrived in Dublin airport there was one channel at passport control from Ireland and Great Britain, one for the EU and a third for other countries. A member of the delegation complained and the Ireland and Great Britain channel was subsequently removed. Sinn Féin currently has no objection to this Bill because it clarifies in law that private companies must not compel travellers who are otherwise entitled to travel passport-free within the common travel area to carry a passport.

We should not, as a matter of course, confer benefits on British citizens above and beyond those provided to other citizens within the EU. Everyone accepts that some verifiable ID is essential but a passport should not be the only ID accepted by any aviation company or agency travelling between Britain and Ireland. This contravenes the spirit of the common travel area agreement between our countries.

11:50 am

Photo of Peter MathewsPeter Mathews (Dublin South, Independent)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy Flanagan, on introducing this very sensible Bill which addresses the operational clarity needed to make travel within the EU less confusing by having some sort of à la carteoperation. Ryanair is not entitled to operate an à la cartesystem. The EU has a family of about 500 million people. The object of the exercise is to allow people, subject to reasonable identification, to move around freely. This is as it should be. This is the way it is in the United States where there are 350 million people, in India, where there are 1 billion people, and China, where there are 2 billion people. For commercial companies to try to tailor an operational approach to an otherwise fair, reasonable and safe way of travel is wrong. It could be that the passport of somebody who is resident in Dublin does not match in all specifications the passport calibration of British passports, or vice versa. That could be grounds for further difficulties. That does not make sense if the person is easily and validly identifiable. It does not make sense for the Government to take a position against a very sound, safe, workable and clear proposal just because it comes from outside the family of a very strong majority Government. I ask the Government to do the right and sensible thing that will benefit our people and our partners across Europe, that is, to support and allow the passage of this Bill.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, I thank Deputy Terence Flanagan for outlining his reasons for the Bill before us today. He will appreciate that the serious flaws and ambiguities identified in the Bill are not mere technical matters but are of such a nature that its implementation could seriously compromise effective immigration controls and undermine the common travel area. I accept that Deputy Mathews was not here earlier when I explained to Deputy Flanagan that the Bill not only does what the Deputy intends it to do, and we accept the merit of what the Deputy is trying to do, but also it causes many other complications to other legislation. It is not straightforward. It is not, as Deputy Mathews has said, sound and safe. That is not the situation with the Bill as it has been put forward. We cannot accept it. It is nothing to do with the author. That is not how I operate. I think the Deputy knows that.

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Renua Ireland)
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Fianna Fáil supports it.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Fianna Fáil is not in government. We have seen what it did when it was in government and it did not always work out very well. It is not that we are against what the Deputy wants to achieve. I want to be clear about that. The Deputy knows how I operate. If it was in any way possible, I would accept this. The Bill is not written in a way that it can be accepted. It has unintended consequences that will cause great difficulty to immigration officers and Garda Síochána members on the front line. It would not be possible to implement it.

To be clear, this Bill, as written, does not solve the situation the Deputy mentioned because what the travel operators are doing is not unlawful. It is their choice to operate that way. It is not unlawful to seek a passport for identification. The CTA arrangement applies to citizens. This Bill does not solve the situation. Travel operators make their own assessments of the identity documents they require from passengers based on their business needs assessments which include matters to do with safety and security. To legislate on this area requires these matters to be taken into account. The airline identified by Deputy Terence Flanagan in the explanatory memorandum and by others in the debate operates from bases outside Ireland into common travel area destinations in the UK. It is the only Irish carrier to do so.

As I indicated in my opening remarks, matters to do with the common travel area should be addressed in a comprehensive way through legislation which the Minister for Justice and Equality intends to bring forward in the immigration Bill after the implementation of the international protection Bill. There will be an opportunity to discuss these issues. I think the Deputy missed the end of my speech when I said that. There will be an opportunity to raise these concerns at that stage.

The common travel area is of crucial economic and social importance to both the UK and Ireland. While on the face of it the Bill attempts to address a particular issue related to the production of documentation, it fails to meet that purpose and has serious consequences that, albeit unintentionally, would have potentially serious outcomes for the State. There is a genuine reason we cannot accept it. If Deputy Mathews gets a chance to read my speech, he will realise why that is. I will not go back through it again. If we could accept it, we would. I think the Deputy will accept that.

12:00 pm

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Renua Ireland)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. It was never my intention to cause any unintended consequences. The objective of this Bill is to ensure that people enjoy the benefits of the common travel area, which has existed, as the Minister of State said in his opening comments, since 1922 between the countries.

It should not be a requirement for a person to have to carry a passport within the common travel area within which people are entitled to travel without one. Unfortunately, that is a requirement when travelling with one carrier, Ryanair, which forces people to carry a passport. That requirement causes people a difficulty when travelling within the common travel area. The Minister of State is willing to accept that is a problem. As Deputy Mathews said, the Minister and the Government need to come up with a solution to that problem and to bring clarity to the position that currently pertains.

I, no more than other Deputies, have received representations from various constituents. I cited the case of a businessman when introducing the Bill. This issue is causing a difficulty because there is confusion over it depending on the airline on which people travel. If one travels by sea in the common travel area, there is no instance where one is required to have a passport; all one needs to carry is some form of identification to prove that one is the person named on the ticket, if asked. There is a difficulty and a lack of clarity in this area and that needs to be tidied up. That is the reason this Bill has been introduced in the first instance. Other Deputies mentioned the issue of the rugby referee who was not carrying a passport when he came to Dublin to referee a major match and the airline concerned had to waive that requirement. There is confusion over this and it is not right that this is the case.

Irish citizens who travel to UK airports, and particularly to London, are sent through a separate channel at the airport; they are not sent through the channel designated for other people arriving from other destinations. Therefore, an allowance is this respect is provided by UK airports but such an allowance in terms of a separate channel is not provided in Dublin Airport or in other Irish airports for citizens arriving from United Kingdom.

Other airlines flying between Ireland the United Kingdom do not mandate all passengers to carry passports but rather they require them to carry other relevant identification to match their name on the ticket. The spirit of the common travel area is being broken by one particular airline and that needs to be challenged. The Minister must come up with satisfactory legislation to deal with this issue, which has dragged on since the 1920s but has been particularly bad in recent years.

There is also the issue of the cost of a passport, which is €95 over the counter and €35 for a passport card. That needs to be reviewed by the Government in terms of providing some type of exemption, particularly for pensioners, who are hard-pressed and have had a great deal of hardship imposed on them during the past eight years. A measure needs to be introduced to ensure that people over the age of 65 are given a free passport. That issue needs to be reviewed. A constituent told me they had to get a passport when they were only travelling to the United Kingdom. That person was not getting the full benefit of a passport and they were only doing it on a ad hocbasis. That person is paying that level of cost for a document that they will not use very much.

As I referenced, there is case law in this respect, in that cases have been taken against the Minister for Justice and Equality such as Pachero v. the Minister for Justice and Equality, which challenged the fact that the common travel area is not a real common travel area; that the spirit of it is not being adhered to. That needs to change. I ask the Minister to bring forward proper legislation to overhaul the current position to ensure that what pertains will be uniform and that carriers will all operate the same identification checks and that there is no discrimination depending on the airline with which one is travelling.

I thank, in particular, Graham Butler who is based in the faculty of law at the University of Copenhagen who was very helpful in bringing this issue to my attention and providing extra help in the drafting of this Bill and of some speaking points on it. He has had an article published in the Irish Juriston this issue, highlighting this is not a real common travel area, as highlighted in Pachero v. the Minister for Justice and Equality. This area needs to be examined and hopefully it will be, as the Minister of State said, through the reform of the immigration laws.

I never in any way wanted to take from existing laws. I acknowledge that we need to strengthen them, but there is a gap in the law, a grey area. It is not nice if one is on the receiving end as a result of that. If one does not have the proper identification, one is not able to travel and has to face the consequences of that. Let us clear up this area once and for all. I hope the Minister of State will ensure that the Minister clarifies this area.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Is it agreed that the Bill be read a Second Time? It is not agreed-----

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Renua Ireland)
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I will not press it.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy does not wish to press it to a vote.

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Renua Ireland)
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I accept the spirit of what the Minister of State has said, that there is a way forward, that this is one of the building blocks but that more can be put together by the Minister to deal with the issue and provide clarity on the common travel area. That is what residents in Ireland and the United Kingdom deserve.

Bill, by leave, withdrawn. The Dáil adjourned at 12.10 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 November 2015.