Amber Rudd urged for clarity on British-only Border Force jobs concerns
THE British government is being asked to address discrimination concerns over its Border Force recruiting only UK passport holders for new jobs in Northern Ireland ahead of Brexit.
Labour MP and shadow secretary of state Tony Lloyd said he will be writing to home secretary Amber Rudd to seek clarification.
The Irish News on Monday revealed only British passport holders are eligible to apply for the roles within the enforcement body, which deals with immigration and customs checks.
Hundreds of new posts across the north and Britain are being advertised in a recruitment drive ahead of 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 for the roles.
The SDLP's Claire Hanna described it as "exclusionary and chilling" and Sinn Féin alleged "naked sectarianism", while Fianna Fáil warned the move disregards the Good Friday Agreement.
However, the DUP's Gavin Robinson said the criteria was "nothing new" and rejected fair employment concerns as "noise".
The East Belfast MP said the British government is entitled to decide which public sector roles require UK citizenship, and the Irish government applies similar restrictions on some jobs.
He told BBC's Talkback programme the recruitment criteria was "not at all" sectarian, adding: "This reaction is totally bemusing."
"It is exactly the same as the Irish Republic. They have exactly the same criteria and conditions for people applying for jobs with them, so this is nothing new," he said.
The jobs are regarded as 'reserved posts', which under British government civil service rules means "only UK nationals may be employed" because they usually "require special allegiance to the crown".
As a result of the Good Friday Agreement, people born in Northern Ireland have dual citizenship and can choose to be British citizens, Irish citizens or both.
Mr Lloyd said: "The news that the government plans to recruit Border Force staff in Northern Ireland is a clear admission they share our concerns that they may not to live up to their commitments on the future of the UK-Ireland border post-Brexit.
"It is particularly concerning that residents of Northern Ireland who do not hold United Kingdom passports are excluded from applying.
"Many in Northern Ireland will rightly ask if these measures are discriminatory and if they comply with Northern Ireland's employment laws and I will be writing to the home secretary to seek clarification."
Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins described the recruitment drive as "really concerning" and called for the Irish government to "up its game".
He added: "What troubles me greatly is the move to exclude Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland from applying for these roles.
"The Good Friday Agreement is explicit on the right of the people of the north to obtain Irish or British citizenship, and indeed both.
"Discriminating against Irish citizens in the north would fly in the face of both the spirit and letter of the agreement."
Tánaiste Simon Coveney's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade refused to comment.
The Home Office also declined to comment further.
In an earlier statement, a spokesman 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".
The British and Irish governments and the EU all insist they want to avoid a 'hard border' on the island of Ireland.