The Irish dimension to the case against ID cards


The Irish dimension to the case against ID cards

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Written by: Frances Webber


A new briefing paper from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on the British National Identity Scheme highlights the dangers of the ID cards project.

Ever since the government proposed in 2005 the introduction of a national identity card scheme, civil liberties, human rights and anti-racist groups, and international NGOs have raised powerful and cogent objections. The parliamentary human rights committee expressed concerns over aspects of the scheme. The government has however ploughed on regardless, despite compelling critiques (Read an IRR News article: ID cards: implications for Black, Minority Ethnic, migrant and refugee communities) and soaring costs estimates, in an attitude of stubborn wrong-headedness similar to that displayed over the ill-fated 42-days detention clause defeated in the Lords in October. This briefing paper by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, More than just a card: intrusion, exclusion and suspect communities: implications in Northern Ireland of the British National Identity Scheme, explains the scheme, rehearses the arguments against it and adds arguments particular to Northern Ireland. The timing of its release should remind the government that sustained, intelligent and vocal opposition can defeat its more reactionary initiatives.

The paper explains that there are in fact two ID schemes, a compulsory one backed by sanctions for those who are not nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA)* (brought in by the UK Borders Act 2007), and a so-called voluntary scheme for British and EEA nationals – although confusing terminology by the Borders Agency has led to a misapprehension that all non-British citizens (including Irish citizens) are ‘foreign nationals’ who must obtain an ID card under the compulsory scheme. Apart from this confusion, the main objections to the schemes are, in brief:

  • the huge number of fields of information to be registered (fifty, compared with six or seven in most ID schemes);
  • the wide range of bodies, including foreign governments, who may have access to the information;
  • the involvement of the private sector in the collection of information;
  • the exacerbation of discrimination as non-Whites and Muslims are disproportionately targeted for ID checks;
  • the creation of ‘suspect communities’ based on racial and religious profiling;
  • the creation of an ‘underclass’ of migrants and others ‘sans plastique’ who cannot access services for want of a card.

While the need to carry a card in order to access services and prevent detention on suspicion of illegal presence is clearly objectionable, the need to register so many bits of information, and to have that information relayed to such a wide range of agencies, is the truly frightening aspect of the scheme. The paper points out that the ‘voluntary’ scheme for EEA nationals will be compulsory in effect, since the aim is to make registration a prerequisite for exercising basic rights and obtaining basic services including a passport, travel (including between the UK and Ireland), education, health and other public services.

Special impact on Northern Ireland

While many of the points in the paper have been well made elsewhere, it is the exploration of the particular impact of the scheme in Northern Ireland that gives the paper its particular interest. There is no provision in the scheme for dual nationality. Thus, nationalists in Northern Ireland who have taken Irish citizenship in addition to their British citizenship cannot, the paper asserts, register as Irish, only as British – and there will be huge resistance to this, particularly if the card carries a symbol of Britishness such as the Union flag. The paper estimates that there are around 400,000 Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland. The possibility of a mass movement against registration in Northern Ireland, and the impact of such a movement on the viability of the scheme, is canvassed.

The paper ends with an assessment of the scheme against the government’s stated purposes (convenient proof of identity; prevention of terrorism; prevention of ‘illegal’ immigration and working; prevention of benefit fraud or abuse of public services; and prevention of ‘identity fraud’,) and finds the scheme either unnecessary, or disproportionate, or counterproductive, or all three, in respect of each aim.

A succinct, clear and useful addition to the campaign against ID registration.

Related links

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Read an IRR News Story: ID cards: implications for Black, Minority Ethnic, migrant and refugee communities

Download a copy of: More than just a card: intrusion, exclusion and suspect communities: implications in Northern Ireland of the British national Identity Scheme (pdf file, 256kb)


*The EEA includes members of the EU as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.  Download a copy of: More than just a card: intrusion, exclusion and suspect communities: implications in Northern Ireland of the British National Identity Scheme ( pdf file, 256kb), Daniel Holder, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, October 2008.


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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Shalom Freedman
Shalom Freedman
11 years ago

I will comment on only one element in this article, on the attempted refutation of Caldwell’s claim regarding increasing European anti- Semitism. Caldwell’s view is one which is generally accepted throughout the Jewish world. Anti- Israel sentiments pervade the European media. While it is true that Islamist anti- Semitism is not the sole source of this , it has had an increasing part in this. Small Jewish communities throughout Western Europe have been physically intimidated by the violence of growing Islamic communities. The strange alliance between the radical Left which supposedly stands for egalitarian values and the openly supremacist Islamic right is at the heart of this. In any case without going on at length, Caldwell is right about the major role the growing Muslim minority in Europe is having in the new European anti- Semitism.

Faisal al Mubarak
Faisal al Mubarak
11 years ago

Mr. Caldwell’s book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe…,” (Dwight Garner, Book Reviews of the Times, July 30th), exemplifies the tendency among some Western writers to slander Islam and Muslims, by resorting to sweeping generalizations. Similar tendencies exist among extremist Muslim writers who also selectively highlight negative perceptions and prejudices towards the West, hence obfuscating positive cultural aspects and fueling destructive polarization. Mr. Caldwell’s fears no compunction to pile his prejudices utilizing selective histories and insidiously concocting arguments out of statistical enumerations that fall short of concealing his negative views concerning Muslims and their culture. He points to failing Muslim immigrant assimilation in European cultures, because “Muslim culture has historically been Europe’s enemies.” Mr. Caldwell also fails to mention that the Christian West contributed effectively to the centuries’ long enmity that Mr. Caldwell would like to inflame. The number of casualties and incidents of social and political upheaval inflicted at the hands of Europeans in colonized societies dwarf any counter incidents inflicted on the West by renegade Muslim radicals. Yet, the calls for reconciliation on the part of the majority of Muslims attests to the forgiving human qualities that we all hope overcome the saber rattlers on both sides. He insinuates that the ethnic riots that spread in the French neighborhoods were not caused by failing French socioeconomic policy and unemployment. Rather, he opts for the insidious explanation that Muslims “simply aspire to burn to ground a society they despised.” No one would even faintly think to use similar combustible statements to explain that the Los Angeles Watts riots in Los Angeles resulted from Afro Americans aspiring to burn to the ground the society they despised,” and get away with it. To make matters even worse Caldwell contends that Muslims are bringing anti-Semitism back to Europe. But, he ignores that anti-Semitism is a European phenomenon par exellance, and fails to mention that it was Muslims who welcomed Jews into their countries, (e.g. Turkey, Morocco), when they were persecuted by Europeans during the last millennium. In order to market his book as being objective, someone of Caldwell’s caliber would have to sprinkle his book with some praises about the culture he or she is poised to vilify. Should we focus on individual sad incidents by some renegades to judge a culture, as in the case of terrorism? Muslims have flocked to Europe to escape tyranny that Europeans themselves helped to leave behind after wretched decades of colonization, only to face suspension, stigma and cultural isolation because they refuse to melt as fast as Mr. Caldwell and his doomsday like writers would like them to do as soon as they step in Europe. Should we judge the intentions of any culture by its subjects holding tight to their cherished ideals, or worse by the heinous acts of the few? Mr. Caldwell unfortunately only continues to aggravate the misunderstandings between Muslims and non-Muslims who must learn together to share this cosmopolitan planet in peace.EMAIL:

Robert Barton
Robert Barton
51 years ago

There may be some flaws in Caldwell’s arguments and some details may be wrong but fundamentally he is spot-on. Letting large numbers of people into your country whose country whose culture is different to yours at best or, worse, opposed to it is crazy. The Muslim community ARE demanding we change our way of life. You only have to look at the response to the Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons etc to see this.

Joe the programmer
Joe the programmer
12 years ago

“suspicion of illegal presence” On the soil there were born on?? ROLMAO! You’re kidding, right?

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