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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019

Travel Identity cards and Free State passports: how Irish people travelled to the UK before free movement

The two countries have enjoyed free movement between them since 1952.

Image: Peter Clarke/Wikimedia

EARLIER THIS WEEK, the Motor Insurance Bureau of Ireland announced that it is preparing to issue ‘Green Cards’ to drivers in anticipation of a no-deal Brexit.

The card would give motorists clearance to travel to the UK by providing proof that they have the minimum level of car insurance required to drive outside the European Union.

While the Government expects the Common Travel Area to remain, whether the UK leaves the EU with a deal or not, the cards are a throwback to similar documents that were required to travel between the two countries before 1952.

Prior to that, Irish citizens who wanted to travel to the UK had to use a Travel Identity Card like this one:

Travel Identity card Source: Twitter/sweetoblivion26

The card permitted travel between the Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and had to be carried by bearers at all times, acting as a kind of internal passport.

It was introduced following the outbreak of World War in September 1939, when travel restrictions were implemented between Great Britain and the entire island of Ireland.

After the UK extended its border controls to the border with Northern Ireland in 1940, the government brought in the Travel Identity Card.

According to instructions inside, the card had to be presented by its holder to the Immigration Officer, alongside their national registration identity card and ration book, when they arrived at port UK or in Northern Ireland.

It wasn’t until travel restrictions between the Republic of Ireland and the UK were lifted in 1952 that the card fell out of use.

Free State passport

Before the war, UK law had considered the Irish Free State part of the UK for immigration purposes, a move that was implemented in 1925 when the Common Travel Area was established.

When the Irish Free State was founded three years beforehand, the state began to issue passports for the first time, which looked like this:

Free State passport Source: Peter Clarke/Wikimedia

These passports were issued by the Governor General in the name of King George V, and followed the model of passports being issued in other British dominions, such as Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

However, there was disagreements between the Irish and British governments of the day about the passports from early on, particularly over how the nationality of the passport-owner was described.

The British government believed that the “British Subject” should feature on the passport, and said they would refuse to recognise it around the world if it didn’t, but the new Irish government refused.

Eventually, a compromise was reached in 1929, when it was decided that the Irish Minister for External Affairs would issue the passports instead of the Governor General.

The passports were still issued in the name of King George V, and the British government accepted the description “Citizen of the Irish Free State”.

These passports were eventually abolished when the Irish Free State became a fully independent Ireland in 1937, with the use of the King’s name eliminated from the passport.

Since then, the Irish government has issued passports by itself, where holders are described only as “citizens of Ireland”.

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