Calls for all-island checks on illegal immigration
Calls for all-island checks on illegal immigration


A row over asylum seekers “pouring” into the north of Ireland to escape deportation from Britain has brought pressure for identity checks on passengers crossing the Irish Sea.

Last week, the 26 County Justice Minister Helen McEntee generated a furore by claiming that eight out of 10 of those seeking asylum in Dublin have come from Britain via the Six Counties.

The claim was seized on by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on the eve of potentially devastating local elections, to claim his hardline anti-immigration policy is working by causing refugees to flee Britain.

There was confusion in the Dublin government over the scale of the problem, with Tánaiste Micheál Martin initially contradicting his colleague.

“Rwanda threat is pouring migrants into Ireland,” screamed the headline on the front page of Friday’s Daily Telegraph, amid a storm of Tory grandstanding and extremist rhetoric.

But it is clear some refugees have indeed travelled from Britain to the north of Ireland to escape a theatrical Tory campaign to deport them by air to the small African Republic of Rwanda.

There are no checks on those travelling across the Irish Sea, a situation which is easily exploited by traffickers. Crucially, Britain’s Rwanda Act does not apply in the north of Ireland, which continues to honour the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

However, there was scepticism at claims that a “truckload” of 30 immigrants had arrived into Larne in recent weeks and at claims of “three busloads” of migrants arriving into west Belfast with “English plates” on the buses.

McEntee and the Tory media have insisted some refugees are heading south, reviving unionist calls for increased policing of the line of partition through Ireland.

While the Tory spin was widely denounced in Dublin, the coalition government was also condemned for sending mixed messages and being slow to deny false claims that it was sending Gardaí to police the border.

That claim was seized upon by unionists as “revenge” for Brexit, although others backed calls for increased efforts to stem illegal immigration.

Tensions over high levels of migration to both Ireland and Britain have been at a high level in recent weeks. A Croatian man, Josip Strok, was killed last month in Clondalkin in Dublin in an alleged racist attack, while unionist Ben Habib argued last week that migrants should be allowed to drown to prevent them entering Britain.

A growing refugee tent city in Dublin city centre is in the process of being dismantled in order to move them on, including to the Wicklow town of Newtownmountkennedy, where protests over their arrival have seen violent clashes.

The political noise intensified when meetings between McEntee and British ministers were called off in reported “snubs”.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald attacked Dublin’s “incompetence” over the immigration issue for fuelling tensions and for offering a “gift to the Tories” in its approach to returns to Britain.

Ms McDonald told the Dáil that some people are seeking to “sow division and hatred” and that is why clarity is important. She called for an immigration system “based on common sense and human rights”.

The Taoiseach Simon Harris responded by saying Ireland would not “become a pawn in British politics” but that moves to restore an operational agreement for returns were being taken by the government as an emergency measure.

However, the plan to return asylum seekers to Britain was further seized upon by a grandstanding Rishi Sunak who insisted he’s “not interested” in any migration returns from Ireland – a position which runs contrary to his stance towards refugees arriving from France.

The North’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill called for a “thought-out” response between the two governments, and noted Dublin had not been in contact with her about the planned legislation.

Meanwhile, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín has called for an “Irish Sea border in terms of people” which would see asylum seekers who arrive into the North subjected to the same passport controls as Irish airports and seaports.

Mr Tóibín said a speedier and more efficient system was needed to “differentiate between those who need help, and those who don’t”.

“We have had a situation where we have an Irish Sea border for sausages in this country at the moment. The DUP did not like that, but they were forced to accept it by the European Union, Britain and the southern Government,” Mr Tóibín said at his party’s ardfheis.

“We need an Irish sea border in terms of people as well in this country. We need a situation where the island of Ireland is seen as one unit in terms of being able to deal with this issue.”

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