By Ray O’Hanlon
A delegation from the Immigration and Naturalization Service was in Ireland last week to discuss the future of its immigration pre-clearance operations at Dublin and Shannon airports.
The discussions took place against the backdrop of indications from Aer Lingus that it might be disinclined to continue paying its share of the cost of the pre-clearance facilities at the two airports.
The facilities are funded in large part by the three airlines flying between Ireland and the U.S., Aer Lingus, Continental Airlines and Delta Airlines.
The INS group met with representatives of the Irish government’s Departments of Transport and Foreign Affairs as well as with Aer Lingus officials and a delegation representing Shannon Airport.
“There have been no firm decisions as yet, although there are talks in all directions,” a spokesman for the Department of Transport said Tuesday.
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An Aer Lingus spokesman confirmed that the airline was yet to reach a definitive decision on the matter.
Meanwhile, the Irish Embassy in Washington has expressed its concern over any threat to the pre-clearance operation as it currently stands.
It is understood that the embassy told the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin that an end to the pre-clearance operation would have a negative impact on regular travelers to the U.S.
The view of the Department of Foreign Affairs is understood to be that pre-clearance was a hard-won political concession that should not be abandoned lightly.
Aer Lingus, however, is viewing the operation through a financial as opposed to political lens.
The airline believes it can save as much as euro 1 million a year if it withdraws its share of funding, which is paid as part of various airport and landing fees.
The troubled carrier is currently examining every area of spending in the context of its survival plan.
Only five countries and jurisdictions in the world have U.S. immigration pre-clearance facilities. In addition to Ireland, the others are Canada, the Bahamas, Aruba and Bermuda.
Pre-clearance was first operated at Shannon Airport in 1986. The INS expanded the program to Dublin airport in 1994. It is understood that the INS is in favor of maintaining the facilities at both airports.
The operation has allowed passengers arriving in the U.S. from Ireland to avoid the often long lines of people awaiting immigration clearance at U.S. airports, such as Kennedy in New York and Logan in Boston.
Continental Airlines has indicated that it has no immediate plans to suspend its share of pre-clearance costs and a Delta Airlines spokeswoman told the Echo this week that she was not aware of any plans on the part of Delta to withdraw its financial support for the INS facilities at Shannon and Dublin.