Nearly 800 people were stopped or arrested by immigration officers and police in Derry, Belfast and Larne in just a single year of Operation Gull - a continuing clampdown designed to stop abuse of the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK).
That’s according to Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly who has suggested the ongoing enforcement initiative at northern sea and airports means there should be no requirement for immigration officials on the southern side of the border in the event of Brexit.
Operation Gull, a UK and Ireland initiative operating on both sides of the border, that has been running for over a decade, is principally focused on suspected breaches of the CTA via sea and airports rather than by land.
Senator Daly, addressing concerns about the prospect of a hard border and stringent controls at Bridgend, Muff and other crossings, suggested the Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and her Secretary General Noel Waters, were both of the view that this shouldn’t be needed.
Senator Daly said Mr. Waters “is of the view that there is no necessity for immigration officials to be on the southern side of the Border”.
He added: “The EU has no desire for it and there is no legal reason to have it in place.
“Whether there will be checks of people going across the border is at the will of the British Government. As I have previously pointed out to my colleagues, there are already immigration officers at Derry, Belfast and Larne.
“Operation Gull has been in operation for more than three years and 792 people trying to get into Britain through Derry, Belfast or Larne were stopped and arrested in one calendar year alone. There is no necessity for people to be checked going over and back across the Border for work, but it is for the British to choose to do so. It is at their will. An inconvenience would be a very nice way of putting it, but it would be an unnecessary imposition on those living on either side of the border.”
Operation Gull has been in operation since the mid-2000s when the British Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) was still in existence. Run variously by the Border and Immigration Agency, the UK Border Agency and now Immigration Enforcement, the scheme has been criticised by human rights groups. A recent House of Lords report on the potential impact of Brexit noted “accusations of racial profiling in [Operation Gull’s] identification of individuals selected for interview in UK ports and airports”.