Ahern to crack down on 'overstayers' with new control system
By Senan Molony
Deputy Political Editor
Monday May 04 2009
A HI-TECH new border system is to be introduced to crack down on the increasing numbers of foreign migrants who illegally overstay their welcome in Ireland.
The Government is preparing to establish an Irish Borders Operations Centre (IBOC) to monitor those arriving on holiday visas and work permits.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is fully behind the new system and sources say it will be rolled out as a matter of urgency in the next 12 months.
The move comes as the UK sets up a tough new border body that will force Ireland to follow suit, at least technologically.
But the BOC will almost certainly be staffed by gardai and civil servants, rather than by a new stand-alone border enforcement agency.
The British Home Office is already developing sophisticated new computer systems to allow for the screening and monitoring of new arrivals, and it is understood the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs have both been liaising with their UK counterparts.
It is envisaged that Ireland would adopt the software of the British model for compatibility purposes, allowing for the swift transfer of data between both jurisdictions.
Ireland and Britain operate a free-travel area, outside of the European border agreement known as Schengen. The reality of the situation is that Ireland and Britain must take immigration positions together.
Mr Ahern has already warned that a growing problem is the increasing phenomenon of so-called “overstayers” — those granted student, holiday and even limited work visas who intend to go underground and become permanent residents.
New technology, greater integration of border systems across Europe and the development of a new entry-control system in Ireland would assist greatly in reducing “and possibly eradicating the problem”, Mr Ahern said yesterday.
Integration Minister Conor Lenihan has been pushing for a joined-up government approach, after expressing alarm at the number of public service numbers issued for tax and social welfare purposes to migrants who were supposed to have work permits.
The number of entitlement cards issued to nationals of some countries far exceeds the number of work permits granted for official arrivals from those same states.
Mr Ahern said: “We are currently developing a new Irish Border Information System (IBIS). This will operate on the basis that passenger information collected by carriers prior to departure will be sent to an Irish Border Operations Centre.
“There, it will be screened against immigration, Garda, customs and other watch-lists.”
In the event that a match occurs, the relevant agency would be alerted immediately, he said. This would facilitate the taking of “appropriate measures”, which, he agreed, meant monitoring, intercepting, questioning, or arresting those concerned.
“The Government has approved the development of the first phase of the system and I expect the roll-out of the system will start next year.”
Mr Ahern said the EU saw technology as a key element for member states tackling crime and illegal immigration. There was already shared technology in the fight against organised and cross-border crime and illegal immigration, but this would take it a stage further.
He added:”It is important that we identify visa overstayers quickly and accurately. I know from talking to other Justice and Interior Ministers this is regarded as perhaps the biggest problem in terms of illegal immigration into the whole of the EU.”
– Senan Molony Deputy Political Editor