New deal on sharing passenger information with UK to fight terror
A new deal on sharing information has been finalised by the Irish and British governments in a major boost to the fight against international terrorism.
The agreement, which has now been signed by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, gives the go-ahead for exchanging details of passenger lists for all airlines and ferry companies operating within the common travel area.
It will allow law enforcement and immigration authorities in the two jurisdictions to be aware of passenger movements before they start their journeys.
The minister is due to brief her Cabinet colleagues on the move next week, but has already finalised the regulation, which provides the legal basis for the exchange of data.
The measure underlines Ireland's commitment to enhancing international co-operation in the war on terror and follows months of negotiations between the Department of Justice and the UK Home Office.
It will become operational shortly after the Cabinet has been briefed.
A senior security source told the Irish Independent last night: "This is a big step forward for us as the common travel area allows free movement between the two countries.
"It is an arrangement which is of critical strategic importance, and we cannot allow it to be abused by anybody wanting to inflict harm in our countries."
The authorities believe it is crucial for all EU member states to be in a position to strengthen border controls through sharing information on suspect passengers before they travel from one jurisdiction to another.
In the wake of the Paris terror attacks last year, the European Parliament's Justice and Home Affairs Committee approved the setting up of a terrorist tracking programme, but it has yet to be sanctioned by the full parliament because of privacy fears expressed by some MEPs.
Ms Fitzgerald has already called on all Irish MEPs to support the early adoption of the directive on passenger name recognition and described it as an important element in the struggle against terrorism.
The Irish-British deal comes amid fears that terrorists returning from Syria could use this country as a backdoor route to the UK to carry out attacks there.
It is estimated that more than 2,500 Europeans have travelled to Syria to fight, and later returned to Europe.
The threat level here remains moderate, which means that a jihadi terror attack is possible but not likely. However, Garda anti-terrorist units and military intelligence are monitoring the activities of a small group on a watch list. They are suspected of providing logistical support, such as forged passports and identity cards, or acting as recruitment agents for outfits such as Isil.
And since the Paris atrocities, members of the elite counter-terrorist sections, including the Garda Emergency Response Unit and the Army Ranger Wing, along with other key components such as the military ordnance section, have been training together on how to deal with the jihadi threat.
The level of preparation and planning, as well as participation in EU responses, will increase further in the coming weeks.