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Rights groups warn on British border plans

23 Sep 2022 / brexit Print

Rights groups warn on British border plans

Members of the Oireachtas have been warned that British proposals on travel into the North by non-Irish and non-British citizens raise concerns about human rights and equality.

The warning came from human-rights bodies who were addressing members to voice their concerns about post-Brexit issues in the North.

Sinéad Gibney (chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission) was joined by Alyson Kilpatrick (chief commissioner for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission), and Geraldine McGahey (chief commissioner for the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland).

The Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme is part of the recently passed Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

‘Significant number’ affected

The three organisations are concerned that ETAs would require everyone wishing to travel to Britain – except British and Irish citizens – to seek permission in advance.

TDs and Senators heard that, if this measure were implemented as proposed, a significant number of individuals who did not hold a recognised British immigration status would be adversely affected, despite the current system allowing them free movement across the border to shop, access services or visit family.

Gibney said that the introduction of ETAs would affect a number of equality and human-rights protections:

  • It may limit the right to private and family life of people in border communities,
  • It would undermine the Northern Ireland Protocol commitment to avoiding a hard border, and related checks and controls, and
  • It would increase the risk of the potential for racial profiling resulting from associated checks.

Racial profiling

The three commissions also stressed the importance of article 2 of the protocol, in which the British government committed to ensuring no diminution of certain rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity after Brexit – including in the area of protection against discrimination, as enshrined in EU law.

Gibney warned that the potential introduction of ETAs would undermine the commitment to avoiding a hard border, and related checks and controls, giving rise to “serious equality and rights concerns” for border communities.

McGahey said that concerns had been raised with her organisation about the potential increase in racial profiling and racial discrimination that could arise from the enforcement of the ETA system.

Kilpatrick said that, while the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission welcomed the British government’s repeated assurances on human rights and protocol article 2, a number of proposed bills had given rise to real concerns.

“The lack of a specific bill of rights for Northern Ireland remains an ongoing concern,” she stated.

“We believe article 2 of the protocol provides a degree of certainty and stability at a difficult time, but is no substitute for a comprehensive human rights framework.”

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