Gardaí are to dramatically ramp up the practice of travelling to international airports to ensure those seeking refuge in Ireland are boarding planes with the correct travel documents.
A senior Government source has confirmed gardaí have already been travelling to a small number of mostly European countries after examining patterns and flows of people coming into Ireland, but that this is going to increase.
The Government is also considering an increase in the €1,500 fine on airlines that fail to properly check passenger documents, though for now it is willing to work with the airlines to ensure staff are trained in what to check on passengers’ travel papers.
Gardaí have also begun meeting passengers at the bottom of aircraft steps at Dublin Airport to check their passports and details. It is understood this is happening twice a week.
“The countries that gardaí are travelling to will keep changing and they are looking at the flow of people at certain airports,” the senior source said. “They are engaging with other police forces in terms of supporting airlines and informing them of the various document checks that need to take place.”
Justice Minister Simon Harris said the State does not comment on operational matters but in his view, gardaí travelling to airports is a “normal functioning part of a migration system”. In an interview with the Irish Examiner, he said the Government wants to ensure the rules that are in place are applied daily and with compassion.
Mr Harris confirmed his department and gardaí met with airlines in recent days and said they have a legal responsibility to check passengers’ documents. Meetings were also held with the international protection office, the border management unit in Dublin Airport, and the Garda National Immigration Bureau in the last two weeks.
“Ireland is a country that wants to welcome migrants, people coming here fleeing persecution; we’re also a country that needs people to come here and work,” said Mr Harris.
“But my job as minister for justice simply is to make sure that we have a rules-based system that is fair, efficient, and effective.”
Department of Justice documents show that between January and November last year, more than 5,000 people arrived at Dublin Airport with either false or no travel documentation. Mr Harris said the Government has given an extra €18m to the international protection office to hire staff to ensure quicker processing times for asylum seekers on whether they can stay in Ireland.
He said anyone who comes to Ireland from a “safe origin country” where there is no widespread war still has the right to seek protection here for other reasons and the State is trying to ensure people get a decision within three months. He said since September, more than 600 deportation orders have been issued.
“We are working to make sure applications are accelerated more quickly,” said Mr Harris. “If you come to our country and you have a right for protection, you will get that certainty. But if you come to our country illegally, you get asked to leave.
The move was criticised by the Irish Refugee Council, which said applicants have to fill out a questionnaire on the day they arrive and not in their native language, when previously they had a number of weeks to do so and access to legal advice.