Seanad Commencement Matter – 31st January, 2018 

The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline how many Garda “emigration checkpoint stops” were made along the border in the two years previous to the Brexit referendum and to further outline the number of stops made since the referendum in June 2016.  

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile 

Opening Response for Minister Flanagan 

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue – in my response, I assume that he is referring to the land border with Northern Ireland. In the first instance it is important to recognise that the purpose of any operation by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) at the border, is to detect immigration abuses by non-EEA nationals who may attempt to use the Common Travel Area to get illegal access to the State.  

It is not geared towards, and does not impact upon, Irish or UK nationals or EU nationals who enjoy free movement under the Common Travel Area and under the EU Free Movement Directive. The number of specific operations held each year is an operational matter for An Garda Síochána in consultation with the UK Border Authorities. 

Their decisions take into account matters such as emerging patterns of immigration abuses within the Common Travel Area.  

An initiative, entitled Operation ‘Gull,’ between the GNIB and the UK Immigration Service was commenced in 2003 to combat immigration abuses within the Common Travel Area, with checks conducted at ports and airports in both jurisdictions, including but not limited to those along the border.  

For the past number of years, these operations have been conducted in Ireland under Operation ‘Sonnet’ which is specifically aimed to target, detect, and prevent illegal immigration into this State via the Common Travel Area. These targeted operations are in addition to the day to day immigration controls in place to maintain the integrity of the Common Travel Area.  

Detailed data in relation to the number of operations pre- and post- the date of the UK Referendum are not readily available. However, I can say that under Operation ‘Sonnet’ there were 91 detections in 2015, 27 detections in 2016 with a provisional figure of 22 detections last year.  

These detections came about as a result of a number of specific days of action – 4 in 2015, 2 days in 2016 and 2 in 2017.In addition to these days of action members of An Garda Síochána continually carry out routine checkpoints along the border in an effort to detect persons attempting to enter this State illegally. 

As a result of such detections, some 774 people were refused ‘leave to land’ along the land border with Northern Ireland during this period – 275 in 2015, 282 in 2016 and 217 in 2017.Of these, 20 people claimed asylum, while the remaining 754 were removed from the state. 

In conclusion, the continuation of the Common Travel Area is one of the main objectives of the Government in the Brexit negotiations. The key benefits this brings - free movement of people as well as the wider economic benefits - means we must ensure that it is not abused by persons who are not entitled to such free movement.  

This requires appropriate checks to be made on the land border to maintain the integrity of the Common Travel Area. Such checks will not, and do not, impact the free movement of many millions of Irish and UK nationals who use the CTA each year.