A British government plan for ‘electronic visas’ could be one of the most significant attempts to enforce its control on the north of Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Elite British Army units are already feared to be installing high-tech surveillance systems in rural border areas as part of a move to impose checks on cross-border travel.
The controls have been announced as part of new British legislation. A bill passed at Westminster, the Nationality and Borders Bill, will mean that any non-Irish or non-British citizen will have to apply for electronic authorisation to travel from south to north.
By demanding visa entries for border crossings, albeit without physical checkpoints, the Tory war cabinet has been accused of wreaking further damage to the peace process.
It is their latest provocation in a compulsion to break international agreements and treaties. As with Brexit, the legislation ignores the realities of life on both sides of the border.
Up to 4,000 non-Irish EU nationals living in the 26 Counties currently rely on free access to the north for work. People living in Donegal and working across the border in Derry could have to fill out British immigration forms on a routine basis.
Visitors from around the world who cross the border for tours of the island will also be targeted. Those heading for tourist attractions such as the Giant’s Causeway from Dublin could find themselves in breach of the Soviet-style controls if they cross the border without satisfying the visa requirements.
There are reports undercover British forces are already attempting to increase electronic surveillance in border areas.
Republican Sinn Féin said they believe an operation by the SRR, the British Army’s ‘elite’ Special Reconnaissance Regiment, was interrupted by local residents in the Fermanagh/Cavan area this week.
They reported seeing occupants of a vehicle acting suspiciously with a hi-tech camera, a spotter scope, binoculars, and a handheld electronic device. They refused to speak to locals when challenged and made off at speed in a scene described as being “like a stunt film”.
It is thought the British government may be attempting to augment mobile phone networks to try to snare those crossing the border without the required visa waiver.
Republican Sinn Féin asked people to be “vigilant” and to “report any more suspicious activity to members of Sinn Féin Poblachtach”.
The British government’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill has sparked political concerns in Dublin about its impact on cross-border workers and tourists.
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the coalition government would be “making our views known” to counterparts in London over the coming days, but said the move did not come as a surprise.
The SDLP described the plan as “objectionable” and “totally unworkable”, while Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty told the Dáil that he bill threatened livelihoods and the tourism sector in the north-west.
It undermines the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area, said Mr Doherty.
“Ireland once again faces the prospect of the collateral damage of a Tory government in Westminster that doesn’t give a damn about Ireland and it’s so divorced from the reality of life on the border that it could even countenance such a measure like this,” he said.