Dáil Éireann - Volume 450 - 14 March, 1995

Written Answers. - EU Border Controls.

[1171] 14. Mr. R. Burke asked the Minister for Justice the Government's attitude to the free movement of people within EU Borders. [4096/95]

16. Mr. O'Malley asked the Minister for Justice her views on the reluctance of the British Government to agree to the abolition of internal border controls within the European Union and the effect this is likely to have on Ireland; and, in particular, the bearing, if any, it will have on the common travel area between Ireland and Britain. [4149/95]

19. Mr. O'Malley asked the Minister for Justice if the Government intends to accede at some time in the future to the Schengen Agreement which will come into force between the first six member states of the European Union shortly; and her views on whether Ireland should be fully committed to the fullest freedom of movement of persons within the European Union and to the abolition of all remaining border checks inside the Union. [4148/95]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 16 and 19 together.

There are major differences in interpretation between member states of the European Union over the meaning of Article 8A of the Single European Act — or, as it has now become, Article 7A of the Treaty on European Union. This difference of opinion is founded on the general declarations made at the time of signature. These are as follows:

Nothing in these provisions shall affect the right of the member states to take such measures as they consider necessary for the purpose of controlling immigration from third countries, and to combat terrorism, crime, the traffic in drugs and illicit trading in works of art and antiques.

[1172] In order to promote the free movement of persons the member states shall co-operate, without prejudice to the powers of the Community, in particular as regards the entry, movement and residence of nationals of third countries. They shall also co-operate in the combating of terrorism, crime, the traffic in drugs and illicit trading in works of art and antiques.

Most member states interpret Article 7A as requiring the abolition of internal border controls at the union's internal frontiers for all persons legally resident in the Union. Ireland shares this view. Britain, however, interprets Article 7A as implying free movement for Union nationals only and not for non-EU citizens. Accordingly, Britain favours the retention of systematic passport checks. The precise interpretation of Article 7A is likely to be decided by the European Court of Justice — to which a case against the European Commission has been taken by the European Parliament.

Ireland fully supports the object of free movement of persons within the European Union. The member states agreed that the achievement of that objective will require a number of compensatory measures aimed, in particular, at combating serious crime, drug-trafficking and illegal immigration. The measures required have been set out in a report to the European Council which was prepared by the co-ordinators group on the free movement of persons in 1989. This report — which is known as the PALMA document — lists a whole series of measures to be implemented, including action at external frontiers, internal frontiers, measures to combat drug trafficking and terrorism, co-operation in the areas of visa policy and asylum together with other forms of legal co-operation in criminal law matters. Included in this list of measures is a requirement to conclude a convention on the crossing of the external frontiers of member states. The failure to conclude this convention has been one of the main reasons for the [1173] delay in achieving the objective of free movement. The text of this convention was agreed in June 1991 but it has not been signed because of a dispute between Britain and Spain concerning the status of Gibraltar.

In 1985 France, Germany and the Benelux countries entered into an agreement — the Schengen Agreement — on the gradual abolition of checks on persons and goods at their common borders. In June 1990 the same countries entered into a further Schengen Convention to implement the intentions expressed in the earlier agreement. The convention applying the Schengen Agreement contains extensive compensatory provisions in the areas of immigration controls at the external borders of the States party to the convention and increased police and judicial co-operation. Since June 1990 Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece have become party to the convention. Austria has observer status and Denmark has applied for such status. The Schengen Implementation Convention is scheduled to become operational between the Schengen member states, with the exception of Italy and Greece, on 26 March 1995.

Ireland is not party to the Schengen Implementation Convention and has no plans at present to become a party. The question of Ireland seeking to join the Schengen arrangements has been revised from time to time; the conclusion so far, being that it is not in Ireland's overall interest to do so. It would not be in the interest of Ireland to have a situation where the common travel area with Britain would be ended and Ireland would impose both exit and entry controls on persons travelling between here and Britain and, in addition, on the land frontier.