Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The Schengen travel area and Irish sovereignty
We’ve heard a lot about the fear of losing our sovereignty during the recent economic disruption. Most people would acknowledge that membership of the EU involves exactly that but at least this was by the consent, even the desire, of the great majority of Irish voters.
So why then is it taken as an article of faith that Ireland should have opted out of the Schengen agreement, which guarantees passport free travel to those citizens who live in most EU states? More importantly, it also means that tourist and business visitors to Europe, notably from the two important present-day economic blocs, China and India, can move freely within the Schengen area by obtaining a single, Schengen, visa. To travel to Ireland from, for example, France these individuals would have to apply for a separate Irish visa, which many do not regard as worth the trouble. There is evidence that the Republic is losing out economically because of the loss of wealthy tourists and customers for services from outside the EU, because of this requirement.
The only reason we are not in Schengen is because the UK objects to it and if the Republic were to join passports would have to be shown at the border with Northern Ireland. While this would be onerous, it is not a sufficient reason for the Republic to have acquiesced to UK travel policy without, at least, a debate on the matter. Where is our sovereignty in this instance?