15 January 2006

Irish may need ID cards for North and Britain

Irish Examiner

By Ann Cahill, Europe Correspondent, Vienna

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IRISH citizens could soon have to carry identification cards to cross the Border into Northern Ireland or to enter Britain, Justice Minister Michael McDowell has said.

The British Government hopes to have legislation agreed before the summer which the opposition there says will make cards mandatory for most citizens.

Mr McDowell met British Home Secretary Charles Clarke yesterday during an EU meeting in Vienna and agreed to hold a meeting in Dublin shortly to discuss the implications.

Currently, Irish and British citizens can move freely without passports between the countries and into the North.

Mr McDowell said the legislation, if it also applies to the North, will have implications for those crossing the Border who do not want to show their passports or carry British-issued ID.

When asked if this meant Irish people would have to have British-approved ID cards, he said: "If they are introduced in Britain and their carrying is made mandatory there - which I understand is way down the road in terms of their time frame - I suppose Irish citizens are going to have to have some form of photo ID in the UK and there will have to be some form of legal basis for it and an understanding between the two governments on it."

As a result, the Irish Government could decide to issue ID documents to be carried on a voluntary basis but which would be legal documents he said, adding that there were a number of strategic alternatives facing the Government here.

"One is simply to say that if the UK introduces it to Northern Ireland then it's a matter for British Government; the other is to say that for Irish citizens, since cross-Border travel is very normal, that we have to make some ID system available: thirdly Irish citizens in Northern Ireland are entitled to apply to the Irish Government as of right for a card issued by the Irish Government which the British on a bi-lateral basis would accept," he said.

Voting is under way in the House of Lords on the issue and while the Blair government has said the cards will not be mandatory, there is provision for local authorities to fine people for not registering.

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