A plan by the British government to restrict movements of non-Irish citizens of the European Union on the island of Ireland has come under renewed criticism following a vote in the Westminster parliament.
The plan, part of proposed new British immigration laws and first reported here in December, is another attempt by Tories and unionists to incrementally reinforce the partition of Ireland.
It drew little response from the Dublin government before Tuesday night, when MPs at Westminster voted in favour of the new requirement for a travel permit for non-Irish EU citizens crossing the border.
The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) condemned the move, which it said was “unworkable and risks a hard border for many non-British and non-Irish citizens in Border communities who have been able to freely cross the Border to date”.
The plan to require an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for visitors will also discourage tourists crossing the border to visit northern landmarks such as Derry’s city walls or the Giant’s Causeway. It marks a further erosion of the Common Travel Area, which originally allowed entirely free movement across the border.
The 26 County Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, said the decision was “regrettable” and “contrary to the approach that UK and Irish governments have supported for many years to protect free movement on the island of everyone.
“Our concern on this has been communicated clearly but has been ignored.”
Responding to Mr Coveney’s comments on social media, British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis bizarrely insisted that Britain’s “commitment to the Common Travel Area is absolute”
“This new ETA requirement is about protecting the Common Travel Area from abuse,” he tweeted.
Under the Nationalities and Borders Bill, EU citizens who are not Irish will be required to apply online for pre-travel clearance –– known as Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) –– before entering British jurisdiction at a border crossing.
It will also apply to citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) living in the State, which includes people from Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. Non-British or non-Irish citizens from other countries which previously did not require a visa to enter the UK, will also now need an ETA.
The Bill is part of a Brexit-related crackdown on immigration by the London government and includes controversial provisions on asylum seekers, nationality and immigration control.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described it as “a shameful situation”.
“It undermines the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area, and creates significant restrictions on freedom of movement on our island,” she said.
“Are we really suggesting that Polish people who live and work in Lifford now need papers to travel to Strabane, or from Emyvale to Aughnacloy?
“It will be devastating for the tourism sector, particularly for counties like Donegal and along the border region. This could cost tens of thousands of jobs in a sector just barely getting back on its feet after Covid-19.
“Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has contacted the British government, but we need to do far more.
“The Taoiseach needs to pick up the phone to Boris Johnson today and marshal Irish diplomatic efforts against this decision.”
The plan was discussed at a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on Wednesday.
“The concern we have is that for many, many years now the British and Irish governments have worked together to ensure free movement in the island of Ireland, north and south, is protected,” Mr Coveney said afterwards.
“I think it is important to say that this is not legislation that is finalised yet.”