Ireland and UK to share all passenger data ‘within weeks’
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has agreed a deal with the UK to enable the sharing of Advance Passenger Information (API).
Speaking in Brussels at an extraordinary meeting of the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Ms Fitzgerald said she was finalising a statutory instrument which will provide the legal basis through which Irish-based airlines and ferry companies can provide the UK authorities with API data.
“In effect, this means that details of all passengers entering the Common Travel Area can be shared, among the appropriate law enforcement and immigration authorities, before they start their journey.
“This is the culmination of detailed discussions between my Department and the UK Home Office. This new system will apply to airline and ferry passengers and I expect it will be operational in a matter of weeks,” she said.
Ms Fitzgerald stressed the importance of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK, which allows free movement between the two countries, stating; “Clearly we cannot allow this facility, which is of critical, national, strategic importance, to be abused by anybody who would seek to inflict harm on our peoples and countries.
“It is a critical issue, not just for Ireland, but for all member states that they are in a position to strengthen border controls through the sharing of information on suspect passengers prior to their travel from one jurisdiction to another.”
Ms Fitzgerald confirmed that Ireland would arm all police at ports and airports, though she insisted there was “no specific information to suggest Ireland is at risk”.
EU justice ministers came under pressure yesterday to step up intelligence-sharing and strengthen border controls following Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels.
At the emergency meeting in the Belgian capital last night, they agreed on a 10-point plan that offered little in the way of new measures, focusing instead on better cooperation between police and security services across the 28-member bloc.
Ministers said they were prepared to share information from national criminal databases. The plan also includes moves to share intelligence with transport authorities and gain access to data from companies such as Viber, Skype and Whatsapp that allow people to make calls over the internet.
They will also step up counter-terrorism efforts with Turkey, North Africa, the Middle East and the Western Balkans, limit terrorists’ access to firearms, explosives and money transfers and beef up Europol’s Counter Terrorism Centre.
“I wouldn’t assume that information is not being exchanged, but clearly there are gaps, as we see,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“Sometimes people are known to police agencies already – it shows the complexity of surveillance and exchange of information”.