Business

Saturday 23 September 2017

Any push to ditch airports' US pre-clearance borders on the insane

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

First prize for the truly nutty, and counterproductive, idea of the week must go to Donald Trump. He's had Twitter in meltdown, with politicians of all hues lining up to denounce the 'Muslim Ban'.

If it were really a Muslim Ban, the 220 million people of Indonesia would be revisiting this year's holiday plans, while oil-rich Saudi Arabia's rulers wouldn't be coming out to praise Trump (only this week) for his policies on fossil fuels.

While Muslim Ban is a catchy phrase, and an idea which would outrage right-thinking people, it's wide of the mark. That said, 'Ban on mainly Muslim countries that cause us concern and in which we don't have a major strategic or economic interest' just doesn't cut it when you've got a tight Twitter word count.

The seven countries hit by the new decree were already identified by a concerned Obama administration, with barely a murmur.

The big difference is that the previous policy required travellers who had visited those countries since 2011 to apply for a US visa before entering.

So the issue here is not tightening the rules, it's the Trump administration's ham-fisted new policy, which lumps ordinary decent citizens of those countries (at least for 90 days in most cases) with people who may want to wreak havoc. But one President's thundering shouldn't have us reaching for the burning pitchforks just yet. The Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) wants Enda Kenny to cancel the Patrick's Day visit to the White House, while Children's Minister Katherine Zappone this week urged Kenny to look into our pre-clearance arrangements with the US at Dublin and Shannon Airport.

Dublin alone is worth around €6.9bn a year to our economy, with 100,000 jobs depending on it, while Shannon is a vital cog in the economy of the entire western seaboard. You'd think that any threat to those jobs might worry a worker-focused group like the AAA or a sitting minister.

Everyone's favourite cuddly liberal, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presides over a country with US pre-clearance at eight airports as well as train stations, while the United Arab Emirates (mostly Muslim, last time I looked) has pre-clearance at Abu Dhabi Airport. No talk in either country of ditching the deals, and good luck to them.

To go on a solo run and question our treaty with the US is a modern-day equivalent of the Skibbereen Eagle keeping an eye on the Tsar.

We may get plaudits for it, but airports from Manchester to Sweden to Japan are queuing up for a slice of the pre-clearance action.

So what do we do - go back to the days of long lines and immigration checks at JFK, not Ireland? It shouldn't be an issue for Seattle-born Zappone as she breezes by us mugs on arrival in the US. Dublin's the fifth-most important European gateway to North America, with passengers from Britain and beyond using our easy transit facilities to head across the pond. Lose pre-clearance, and they'll go elsewhere. In effect, we'd be doing a Trump - making people connecting with other people and countries more difficult, and that shouldn't be a runner.

Politicians are entitled to take the high moral ground but they shouldn't climb over the public to get to the summit.

While Trump's ban is hideous, some of the countries affected have form in this area themselves, denying entry to Israeli passport holders.

They'll argue that it's not a 'Jew Ban', but around 97pc of Israeli passport-holders are Jewish, so it's of little comfort to those affected how it's argued.

In some instances, it's just a case of having no diplomatic relations between either nation, and that's a localised matter.

Where it does matter is that other countries are dragged into the regional quarrels.

Visit Israel on a Holy Land trip, or to do business with its booming tech sector, and you'd be wise not to get your passport stamped, and get the entry information on a separate sheet which can be discarded on departure.

So in effect you're made to lie to officials about where you've been. This has been allowed to go on for decades and we've put up with it. Enforcement and attitudes vary in the nations, but an Israeli stamp (for any citizen, Irish included) could cause problems, or denied entry, in some of the nations on Trump's list. Whatever your political views, travellers shouldn't be caught in the crossfire of international disputes.

Travel can broaden the mind - but politicians and leaders often get in the way

There's nothing like that cead mile failte feeling on arrival at Dublin Airport - except it was nothing like that last weekend for us passengers arriving from Morocco.

Ordered to line up against the wall between the passport zone and baggage carousels by customs officers, arriving passengers had their bags checked by a sniffer dog. The serious-looking staff may have had a good tip-off to arouse their suspicions, but it felt a bit OTT. On a flight largely filled with senior citizens, it's hard to see any of them doing a Midnight Express-style drugs run to prop up a pension. Oddly enough, it's something I've never encountered off a flight from Amsterdam....

n Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Oscars - Hollywood sure loves a night out with prizes.

Ditto the Irish travel industry, which has hosted up to three main rival ceremonies each year. But the pool of operators in the Irish market is small, so if your product is decent, and if you're popular in the tight-knit community, you've got odds of winning that Kim Jong-un would envy. But every so often a dark horse takes a gong - this year Turkish Airlines for Best Business Class service to Europe. It won the prize at the prestigious Irish Travel Agents Association awards night, and it's recognition of the offering, which includes on-board chef and full frills on the double-daily service from Dublin to Istanbul. The economy offering is good though - full meals and drinks without having to reach for your wallet.

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