DESPITE countless promises Brexit would not result in any hardening of the border, many workers and tourists could be soon be facing checks when coming into Fermanagh.
Last week the House of Commons passed the Nationality and Borders Bill, which will introduce a new visa waiver system for non-Irish EU citizens wanting to enter the UK, which will mean thay have to apply for Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
An amendment to the bill that would have seen the North being exempted from the new rules was voted down in the House of Lords.
Essentially, the proposals mean any non Irish or British EU citizens wanting to travel across the border in the coming years will need an ETA to enter.
For example, a bus load of French tourists travelling from Ballyshannon to Belleek would need ETA clearance. The proposals would also mean an Italian nurse living in Monaghan or a German doctor living in Cavan, for instance, would need ETA clearance everyday they go to work in the SWAH.
Local election candidate and civil rights campaigner Emma DeSouza, who is an ardent defender of the Good Friday Agreement, said if the plan is enforced it would cause significant disruption locally “and have a serious impact on cross border travel and tourism.”
Noting many countries operated an ETA system, such as the US and Australia, Ms DeSouza said the proposals would cause little trouble to a family holidaying in Britain for a week, but “they simply don’t work on the island of Ireland.”
“It’s unfeasible and makes clear once again that Ireland and the current workings of the Border are but an afterthought for the British government,” she said.
“The British government is arguing that it is not a ‘hard border’ for migrants to face up to four years in prison for forgetting or not having pre-clearance on a local journey. That those who cross the border as part of their everyday lives could face four years in prison for forgetting to apply for preclearance is extremely punitive, and draconian.”
With the long-established Common Travel Area (CTA) between the UK and Ireland keeping the border open for Irish citizens, Ms DeSouza said the CTA did not prevent immigration checks in Ireland, noting such checks had long been documented on cross-border buses and were also on the rise in the North.
“There is a real and pressing concern that these checks will only increase and lead to racially discriminatory checks,” she said.
Ms DeSouza concluded that the proposals would hinge on their implementation.
“The question we should all be asking, is who is going to enforce this system? And how will immigration checks be performed along the border,” she asked.
“The Irish government must use all means at its disposal to push back against any hardening of the border on the island of Ireland.”
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