Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is examining allegations from civil rights bodies, north and south, of “racial profiling” by gardaí conducting passport checks on people travelling by bus across the border.
The claims have been made by the Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and the Dublin-based Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
They have written to the Garda Commissioner, the Justice Minister and the Policing Authority in relation to the alleged “discriminatory manner” in which officers from the Garda National Immigration Bureau are conducting passport checks on passengers.
They claim that witness and alleged victim testimony indicate that the checks are “frequently conducted on the basis of (at time quite blatant) racial profiling”, where people are being singled out on the basis of skin colour or other ethnic attributes.
The civil rights bodies claim that there has been an increase in passport checks, which they said follows assurances from both governments that there would be no return to a hard border.
The CAJ is also taking an equality case against Translink, the public transport company operating the bus services, for facilitating the alleged discriminatory checks. Their complaint has been made on behalf of 17 passengers.
The statement said that under Irish law some persons are required to carry and produce passports when crossing the Irish land border, but this does not apply to Irish citizens and other EU citizens within the Common Travel Area.
“However, there is no way of telling the difference between those who are subject to such duties and those who are not,” it said.
The issue is covered under Section 11 of the Immigration Act 2004.
The matter was raised at the Oireachtas Justice Committee by Sinn Féin Senator, Niall Ó Donnghaile, who said he takes the bus and has been on it when checks were conducted.
He told the commissioner, who was attending the committee, that the gardaí only ask for passports from people “who don't look like you or I” – and questioned the legal basis for the checks.
The commissioner said he hadn't seen the CAJ letter, but that from his understanding the checks are targeting organised crime, such as human trafficking.
But he added: “The specific point you raise, if you allow me to come back to you, because you do raise a very serious point about who the checks are being applied to. I'll want an answer for that.”
He said that “for all its strengths” the CTA also creates opportunities for organised crime.
Responding, the ICCL said it looks forward to a meeting that the commissioner has suggested in order to hear “his full response regarding allegations of racial profiling at the border”.
A statement said: “ICCL fully appreciates the efforts to combat human trafficking, but we will have questions regarding the legislation which underpins these checks. We will have further questions regarding the training and directions which are being given to gardaí in order to ensure they respect everyone's right to be treated equally at the border and never engage in racial profiling.”
The Policing Authority said it is considering the ICCL/CAJ letter and intends to respond.
A spokesman for the Minister for Justice directed inquiries to the Gardaí.