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14 July 2005 Edition

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Why we must oppose British ID cards

BY Mícheál MacDonncha

The London atrocities occurred at a time when the British government's plan for compulsory identity cards for all persons in its jurisdiction was running into trouble. Now, under cover of reaction to the horrific attacks, the plan is being accelerated. But this British ID card plan is one of the most serious assaults ever on civil rights and, in the Irish context, on national rights.

Incredibly, the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government is planning to slavishly follow suit with ID cards in the 26 Counties, on the spurious basis that if the British do it they have to do it as well.

The Blair government wants to impose a system in its jurisdiction where everyone will be required to carry a state identity card. The power of the state over every individual would be greatly increased while the so-called 'security services' would control a bank of information that hitherto they have only dreamed of.

In the aftermath of the London attacks any critic of this plan will be accused of being 'soft on terrorism'. But the Blair ID plan is as wrong on real security grounds as it is on civil rights grounds. It will place information on all persons under British government jurisdiction in one place. The dangers if anyone broke into that system from outside are obvious. But the use this power will be put to by the State itself is even more worrying.

In Ireland we know all too well how information was passed from British state forces to their loyalist paramilitary surrogates, resulting in many deaths. We know how the British have maintained a repressive statelet in the Six Counties, the population of which is subject to some of the most intense surveillance in the world. The ID card plan represents the formal institutionalisation of the militarised state.

It's not only the British state we have to worry about. The Blair government has also reportedly opened negotiations with private companies about how they can buy access to this information for commercial purposes.

In Ireland, of course, there is another dimension to this plan. A British government wants to impose these ID cards on everybody in the Six Counties, part of their 'United Kingdom'. Thus as well as the objections on civil rights grounds that apply everywhere, there is the scandal that people who give no alleigance to the British state in Ireland will be forced to hold British identity cards.

The Fianna Fáil/PD government now claims that if this card is introduced by the British then the 26-County state may have to follow suit. Instead they should be telling the British that these cards are unacceptable and they should not be introduced in the Six Counties. Already there has been talk of some form of 'compromise' whereby nationalists or Irish citizens living in the Six Counties could hold Irish ID cards. The quid pro quo for this would be exchange of information whereby the details of these card holders would be shared with the British. Such is the level of information exchange between the Irish and British authorities that information from a 26-County ID card database would probably be accessed by the British anyway.

Sinn Féin should vehemently oppose the imposition of British identity cards in the Six Counties and state identity cards in the 26 Counties. A determined stand against this attack on civil rights would have a real political effect as the British would not relish the prospect of trying to impose these cards on a nationalist population taking its lead from Sinn Féin. In the 26 Counties the campaign should focus on pressing the government to oppose the British ID cards and to drop any plans to slavishly follow the British down this dangerous road.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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