Vital tool in crime fight 'on hold'
THE roll-out of a new border control system to track serious criminals, terrorists and social welfare cheats has been delayed because of the economic crisis.
The hi-tech Irish Border Information System (IBIS) was due to be in place this year but it is now expected to be 2011 before a tendering process will even begin.
Announcing the scheme last year, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern warned of the growing problem of "overstayers" -- those granted student, holiday and limited work visas who go underground with the intention of becoming permanent residents.
IBIS was meant to provide greater security by collecting passenger information held by carriers prior to departure and cross-checking it with immigration, gardai, customs and other watch lists. Where there was a match, an alert would be issued to frontline agencies.
It was also seen as a powerful tool in clamping down on cross-border social welfare fraudsters who claim benefits both in Northern Ireland and the Republic. However, the Department of Justice has revealed that it could be at least another year before the system is fully up and running.
"The country's economic circumstances in the last 18 months required a re-examination on how to bring forward this project," said a spokesman.
"A prototype is now being developed in-house and this will inform a tendering process for the full scale system. It is intended to develop and implement the prototype during 2010 and early 2011 with a view to holding a tender competition for the full system soon after that."
The department was unable to say how much it would cost, explaining that this would become clear once the prototype was fully developed. However, there would be "tight controls on spending".
It was proposed to develop IBIS in two phases. The first phase would involve collecting passenger information on one or two routes and matching this against a number of watch lists.
After a one- or two-year period, the system would then monitor air and sea passengers travelling between Ireland and states outside the common travel area with Britain.
Phase two would centre on collecting passenger information and building profiling and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said the delay was a "serious blow" to eradicating organised crime and terrorism, neither of which recognised any borders.
"Clearly, this is being long-fingered. It represents a blow to the fight against organised crime," he said.
"It's another example of essential anti-crime measures not being put in place because of the Government's economic failures of recent years. Frontline policing has suffered and now advanced technological systems are not proceeding," he added.