Northern Ireland

Gardaí border checks escalated in response to increased numbers of asylum seekers heading south

Migration checks have been carried out on the main Belfast-Dublin road north of Dundalk and also on the cross-border Enterprise train service.

File photo dated 15/06/16 of traffic crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal. Avoiding check points or any other physical infrastructure on the Irish border is the UK Government's number one priority when negotiating post-Brexit arrangements for its only land frontier with the EU, a Whitehall position paper will state. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday August 16, 2017. The document outlining the Department for Exiting the European Union's aims in talks with Brussels will also suggest there may be no customs implications at all on the Irish border if the UK and EU can strike an ambitious future partnership. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Immigration checks along the border have increased. PICTURE: BRIAN LAWLESS/PA WIRE

A specialist Garda unit has increased checks on the border in response to a rise in the number of people seeking asylum in the Republic.

A joint operation over four days last week involving personnel from the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) and the PSNI stopped 50 people without valid documents from entering the south.

The checks were carried out on the main Belfast-Dublin road north of Dundalk and also on the cross-border Enterprise train service.

Those identified to have entered the south illegally and who were refused “leave to land” were returned to the north or to Britain, via the Dublin-Holyhead ferry.

Gardaí said that the 50 detections and deportations were in addition to 107 people detected entering the Republic without the required visas or identity documents from the last quarter of 2023 up to 20 May this year.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has come in for criticism
The Republic's Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON/PA

Last week’s checks are part of ‘Operation Sonnet’ and represent an intensification of migration-related activity along the border, where free movement is permitted for Irish, UK and EU citizens.

Earlier this month, The Irish News reported that up to 7,000 asylum seekers have passed through the north’s ports and airports before crossing the border into the Republic so far this year.

The revelation came a matter of weeks after the Republic’s justice minister said more than 80% of asylum seekers to the Republic were coming from Northern Ireland.

Helen McEntee said she believed the increase in numbers crossing from the north was linked to the consequences of seeking an open border after Brexit.

Ms McAntee’s Stormont counterpart, Alliance leader Naomi Long, responded to the claim by saying: “Those are figures we in Northern Ireland don’t recognise.”

Gardaí said immigration officers work closely with transport operators and that a human rights-based approach is adopted in relation to individuals stopped.

All checks carried out are “lawful, objective and respectful”, Gardaí said, and that the southern authorities enjoys “significant operational co-operation with the UK Border Force, UK policing services and the PSNI”.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said: “Common Travel Area checks have taken place for a long time but what cannot happen now is an overreaction to the British government’s inhumane Rwanda scheme that has the effect of hardening the border for people travelling across our island.

“The nativist politics of the Tory party cannot be allowed to affect and infect our communities.”

The ramping up of border checks, which will be coupled with targeted intelligence-based operations aimed at intercepting new routes into the Republic, comes as a separate policing initiative has been launched to enforce deportations.

The Sunday Independent reported that GNIB’s Operation Fern is designed to enforce more than 2,000 deportation orders which are expected to be issued by the Republic’s Department of Justice by the end of the year.