UK Border Force reviewing 'British-only' policy on jobs in Northern Ireland
THE UK Border Force is said to be reviewing its policy of recruiting only British passport holders for jobs in Northern Ireland ahead of Brexit after being accused of discrimination.
The Irish News revealed on Monday that only British passport holders are eligible to apply for the posts.
The Equality Commission yesterday said it had raised concerns on grounds of fair employment legislation – and it understood Border Force is now reviewing the issue "as a matter of urgency".
Hundreds of new posts across the north and Britain are being advertised within Border Force, which deals with immigration and customs checks.
The jobs are being created in preparation for the UK leaving the European Union – fuelling fears of a hard border.
Among them are 21 positions based in Belfast, but all applicants are required to have a British passport.
It means people in the north with only Irish passports cannot apply.
The SDLP and Sinn Féin hit out at the "exclusionary and chilling" policy, but DUP MP Gavin Robinson dismissed it as "nothing new" and rejected fair employment concerns as "noise".
In a statement, Eileen Lavery, head of advice and compliance with the Equality Commission, said the watchdog has been in contact with Border Force "over some time regarding this issue".
"The commission has made the point that the requirement for a person to hold, and produce at interview, a British passport in order to meet the criterion of being a UK national could exclude a large section of the Northern Ireland population who identify as Irish, hold no UK passport and, in many cases, hold an Irish passport," she said.
"We have pointed out that this could raise concerns about possible discrimination on grounds covered by the Fair Employment and Treatment Order, which includes political opinion, and/or by the Race Relations Order."
Ms Lavery said the commission also suggested Border Force should give consideration to the Good Friday Agreement, which allows people born in Northern Ireland to choose to be British citizens, Irish citizens or both.
"The commission understands that the Border Force, as a matter of urgency, is now reviewing this matter and the points the commission has made," she added.
The SDLP's Claire Hanna welcomed the Equality Commission's involvement.
But the South Belfast MLA said the recruitment drive still raises questions over the future of the Irish border post-Brexit.
"We can never ever allow a situation where jobs are restricted on the basis of 'British only' – it flies in the face of the equality protections we delivered through the Good Friday Agreement," the South Belfast MLA said.
"It is however troubling that an agency would be so lazy in its approach and is yet another aspect of Brexit's impact on Northern Ireland that the UK government has not given sufficient thought to.
"Tragically Brexit continues to force issues of identity, allegiance and sovereignty, which the Good Friday Agreement sought to defuse, back into everyday life.
"But the fundamental question stills remains – what border are these posts supposed to be guarding?"
The British and Irish governments and the EU all insist they want to avoid a 'hard border' on the island of Ireland.
Earlier this week, the Home Office said the UK-wide recruitment campaign covers port and airport locations, but will also "respond flexibly to emerging requirements, including any future requirements as a result of EU exit".