Published on December 12th, 2015 | by Jim Lee


Passports, Passport Cards and the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK

While 9-11, fundamentally changed the nature of travel security and especially heightened the awareness of the security risks associated with airline travel, there have been some attempts in recent times, to try and minimise the disruption and inconvenience, overly restrictive security measures, can have on the travelling public. In the United States, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agency has for example, introduced a number of ‘Trusted Traveller Programmes’, including ‘Global Entry’, which allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travellers upon arrival in the United States from the United Kingdom (and other countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Panama, South Korea and Mexico). Then have you considered hiring a chauffeur? This is an excellent idea if you are successful as it brings such luxury and ease to your working day.

A Common Travel Area (CTA) has existed since 1922, between Ireland and United Kingdom (including the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, which have slightly different rules). With certain exceptions, the CTA’s internal borders are subject to minimal or non-existent border controls and can normally be crossed by British and Irish citizens. It reflects the ties of history and kinship between our two countries, and also labour market and business needs, and has continually operated except for a brief period during the Second World War years. While it is commonly believed that the CTA is a legislative term, and notwithstanding that it is referenced in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, it is not. 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. Indeed since 1997, the Irish government has imposed systematic identity checks on air passengers coming from the United Kingdom and selective checks on sea passengers, and occasional checks on land crossings from Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, 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.

Common Travel Area

Common Travel Area

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 officer, 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.

Commenting on these requirements, former High Court judge, the Hon. Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan, now a judge of the Court of Appeal, said; “the practical result of this is that all persons arriving by air from the United Kingdom face Irish immigration controls. While in theory both Irish and British citizens are entitled to arrive here free from immigration control by virtue of the common travel area, increasingly in practice such passengers who arrive by air from the UK are required to produce their passports (or, at least, some other form of acceptable identity document) in order to prove to immigration officers that they are either Irish or British citizens who can avail of the common travel area”.

In addition to the Government’s requirements, there is the requirement by air carriers that require travellers on all routes, including within the CTA, to produce a satisfactory identification document for travel, usually a driving licence or passport, and Ryanair will only 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. It should be noted that this section does not apply to any person (other than a non-national) coming from, or embarking for, a place in the State, Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

There is an obvious conflict between the need to establish a person’s identity, and therefore their entitlement to travel within the CTA, and also how the states emigration officers and airlines define their requirements in this regard.

In spite of some improvements, Ryanair is still the most restrictive on Ireland – UK flights, allowing only a Valid Passport, a rule Aer Lingus never had, while CityJet also allows Drivers licence with photograph or National ID card/Government issued photo ID cards. As these conditions may change from time to time, travellers should check their particular airlines terms and conditions before travelling.

PassportsIn an attempt to offer passport-free travel to qualifying people, who are travelling within the CTA, a Private Members Bill, the Freedom of Movement (Common Travel Area) (Travel Documentation) Bill 2014, proposed by Deputy Terence Flanagan, of RENUA Ireland, was debated in the Dáil during November.

The Bill, although support by the opposition, was opposed by the Government, who believed it was “fundamentally flawed”. Speaking during the debate, Damien English T.D, Minister of State with responsibility for Skills, Research and Innovation said: “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”. He went on to detail these “consequences”. For example, it 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”. In addition, for Deputy Flanagan’s bill to be effective, the CTA would have to be defined in national law and, without the repeal of many other pieces of legislation, it would have no effect on carriers, but “would prohibit the Garda Síochána and other State agencies from exercising certain powers”.

The Minister of State added “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”. Noting that the Minister for Justice and Equality proposes to introduce, “further legislation in the immigration area subsequent to the international protection Bill” and that “any issues concerning the CTA could be examined in that context at that stage”, Deputy Flanagan decided not to press it to a vote and consequently the Bill, by leave, was withdrawn.

Passport Card

The new Irish Passport Card

Update on the a new Irish Passport Card

Since the launch the new Irish Passport Card on 5th October, over 12,000 applications have been received, and over 11,200 cards produced. The card is accepted for travel in all EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland (31 countries in total) and gives exactly the same entitlements and protections as a passport book. There has been a positive public reaction to this Irish-led innovative project including from those Irish citizens who travel frequently within Europe. It is also appears to be in demand by young adults for age-identification purposes.

The Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed, that it had been informed by a small number of citizens, that they have encountered difficulties with the card being accepted. This appears to have happened at regional airports in the main. To avoid this in the future, the Minister Deputy Charles Flanagan has asked the Irish Embassies in each EU and EEA country and Switzerland, to make contact with Ministries of Justice/Home Affairs as relevant, and request them to ensure that all border guards are fully appraised of the validity of the Irish Passport Card for travel. Additionally the details of the Passport Card have been uploaded to Keesing’s document checker database. This is a comprehensive database for identity documents and bank notes and is widely used by government agencies including military and police, immigration offices, customs, embassies and tax authorities.

An Garda Síochána have arranged for that document to be uploaded to the Edison Database (Electronic Documentation and Information System on Investigation Networks). This database can be accessed by all 190 Interpol member countries through a secure internet system known as I-24/7.

Currently, the process of uploading the document onto the European Union ‘False and Authentic Documents Online’ (FADO) database, is underway by An Garda Síochána. FADO is available to document experts in partner states including in all member states of the EU. When this process is complete the document will be uploaded to the European Council’s Public Register of Authentic Travel and Identity Documents Online website. The Minister has been advised by An Garda Síochána that this final stage, could take up to four months. One would have expected that these measures would have been put in place before the cards introduction.

Other Passport matters

The Passport Service has issued 644,481 passports up to the end of November of this year, which represents an increase of over 15,000, from the 629,446 passports that were issued in 2014. A ten day turnaround applies to applications submitted in person at the Passport Offices in Dublin and Cork and through the An Post Passport Express service. All applications which were submitted in person at the Passport Offices met the guideline turnaround times of 10 days in 2014 and 2015. For applications submitted via the Passport Express service in 2014 and so far in 2015, the average annual turnaround time for renewals was 10.5 days last year. So far this year it is 9.3 days. Nevertheless the turnaround times are a guideline rather than a stated guarantee. For this reason the Passport Service recommends that citizens apply at least six weeks in advance of any planned travel.

One of the remaining irritants in the Passport application and renewal process, particularly in rural areas, is the requirement to have a member of An Garda Síochána witness the application form. Apart from the need to alleviate workloads placed upon members of An Garda Síochána, difficulties have been experienced due to the closure of smaller rural Garda stations. The witnessing of applications by An Garda Síochána in the state however, has been a vital element of the identity verification with the help of Fully-Verified, required under the 2008 Passports Act, and in combatting fraud. In satisfying the identity of each applicant before a passport is issued, the process serves to maintain the good reputation and integrity of the Irish passport worldwide, which in turn protects Irish citizens as they travel abroad.

However, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has said that he recognises the additional workload, which the significant increase in passport applications, (from 250,000 in 1995 to nearly 630,000 last year), has put on An Garda Síochána. He confirmed that the Passport Service “is reviewing the witnessing process”. The process used to apply for the passport card is serving as a pilot for an online application form. “The Garda witnessing requirement for adults renewing their passports will be reviewed in tandem with a number of new identity verification and anti-fraud measures including increased reliance on the public services card as the core identity verification mechanism for all passport applicants in the state” he added.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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