THE Common Travel Area between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be put under the microscope during a day of discussion in Dublin next month.
Spearheaded by the North West Migrants Forum, in conjunction with the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR), the event, on September 21 at the Communications Workers’ Union, William Norton House, North Circular Road, Dublin, will examine the challenges some families and individuals face when it comes to cross-border travel.
Under current rules non-UK and non-Irish citizens married to UK or Irish nationals require a visa to enjoy free movement between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The same curtailments apply to people granted refugee status to remain in the UK indefinitely and those seeking international protection.
International students also face curbs on their activities. These have the potential to interfere with certain educational opportunities.
Where medical facilities operate on a cross-border basis – the North West Cancer Centre in Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry, or the paediatric cardiac services based in Dublin to name but two – not having freedom of movement can have huge health implications. An example of this is a refugee child with a heart condition in Northern Ireland who may be unable to access urgent care or be accompanied by immediate family members without first obtaining a visa.
A further concern is that of racial profiling where non-white travellers have been asked to provide identification while travelling across the border and the same request is not made of other individuals.
The North West Migrants Forum, CAJ and INAR contend that it is within the gift of the Irish Government to address the barriers thrown up by the Common Travel Area. This and other issues will be discussed in detail on September 21.
Director of the North West Migrants Forum, Lilian Seenoi Barr, said, “Under the Common Travel Area, Irish and British citizens can move freely and reside in either jurisdiction and enjoy associated rights and entitlements including access to employment, healthcare, education, social benefits, and the right to vote in certain elections.
“The Common Travel Area pre-dates Irish and UK membership of the EU and is not dependent on it. Since its inception, the Common Travel Area has excluded visa nationals with legal rights to live, work and study in the north and south of Ireland. We believe this is intentional discrimination.
“The North West Migrants Forum and CAJ have proposed measures that will make a real difference on the ground on the island of Ireland and addresses pre and post Brexit-related problems regarding the movement of people from Northern Ireland to the south of Ireland that have been raised by visa nationals and their families.
“The meeting is an opportunity to engage the public on this particular issue. It is also a chance to ask questions about the proposed measures and to seek public support and endorsement. I would encourage everyone with an interest in the Common Travel Area, particularly those who want to see an inclusive and shared Ireland, to come along. We are looking forward to engaging earnestly and intensively with the Irish public in the interest of all residents in Northern Ireland.”
Director of CAJ, Daniel Holder, said, “We have a ‘Common Travel Area’ and part of that is there is to be an open border on this island and many people live fluid daily cross border lives.
“The problem is that the border isn’t open to everyone who lives here. People who live in the North but require Irish visas cannot cross the border to see friends or go to shops without going through a lengthy and costly visa process.
“There is a technical fix to this that is within the gift of the Irish Government and we really want to see progress on that.
“There should also not be selective passport control on an open border. This has led to examples of quite blatant racial discrimination by An Garda Síochána and it needs to cease.”
Among the speakers on the day will be Chief Commissioner of Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission Alyson Kilpatrick, Senator Emer Currie and People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy. Those with lived experience of the Common Travel Area will also tell their stories while expert opinion will be offered by a panel of academics.
Shane Curry, Director of INAR, said there needs to be an all-Ireland border system that enables everyone to contribute equally to the island’s future.
“The Good Friday agreement enshrines the principles of parity, equal treatment and human rights for all on our shared island.
“A border regime which discriminates disproportionately against our minority ethnic friends, neighbours and colleagues amounts to institutional racism and runs directly counter to these principles and to those in the Irish constitution.
“It is time to do away with a regime which creates a two-tier system of rights and restricts some, while allowing others to pass freely. We need an all-island migration and border,” Mr Curry added.
• The meeting, from 10.30am to 3pm on September 21, is free of charge and free buses will run from Derry and Belfast. Everyone is welcome to attend. To register go to www.nwmf.org.uk