Is the United States in Breach of the Air Transport Preclearance Agreement 2008?

This post is authored by Dr Darren O’Donovan, Senior Lecturer in International Law, Administrative Law and Human Rights, in  LaTrobe Law School, Melbourne. 

A lot of Irish media discussion in the preclearance debate has begun to feature rhetoric such as Ireland can’t “let the United States operate preclearance given the new executive order”, or that “Ireland should make a statement and close preclearance”. Opponents (they would call themselves realists) would argue that as a small country with a small economy this is far too dramatic a foreign policy step. To debate the legality of preclearance fully however, we need to emphasise that United States obliged, under international law, to operate its preclearance in line with the bilateral agreement between Ireland and the United States signed in 2008.

In this post I want to therefore frame questions for the United States government, and for use by United State citizens. The big one is of course simply: Is the United States in breach of its international legal agreements with Ireland by applying the executive order in Irish airports? The key provision of the 2008 Agreement Article II (1) which states that:

“Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed as diminishing the rights enjoyed by individuals under the Constitution and laws of Ireland and, where applicable, the United States.”

As we have discussed in an earlier blogpost there are a range of potential, to be explored, arguments as to why the application of the executive order within Ireland’s jurisdiction may be unlawful under Irish law. What is significant however, is that we in Ireland cannot simply say that US law is a matter for US authorities. US law in fact sets the scope of their international legal obligations towards us, and it may even require us to give redress to some individuals (see question 4 below). We need to fold the United States’ bilateral obligations into the debates about preclearance.

Questions for the US Embassy/State Department:

  • As under the Article II of the 2008 Agreement, the scope of your authorisation under Article V to carry out preclearance cannot extend to actions which diminish the rights of individuals under Irish law, what steps have you taken to ensure that the application of the executive order does not exceed the terms of the 2008 Agreement?
  • As under Article II of the Agreement, the scope of your authorisation under Article V to carry out preclearance cannot extend to actions which diminish the rights of individuals under United States law, can you confirms what steps you have taken to confirm that the provisions of the executive order are compliant with United States law?
  • In the event you determine the executive order is not compliant with Irish law, are you willing to commit to not applying the executive order in preclearance areas at Dublin and Shannon Airport?
  • Given the close and abiding bilateral ties between the United States and Ireland, is it appropriate for the executive order to be applied in Irish airports while it is currently before the United States courts? We refer you in particular to Article IV(2) which appears to require Ireland to provide a system of redress in event of the “unlawful exercise of powers associated with the administration of preclearance“. This Article is not limited in its express terms to the unlawful administration of Irish law . Can you provide your view of the extent to which the Government of Ireland may be liable to provide redress for the actions of US government officials under this Article?

Ireland: The Supporters of the Preclearance System

What this post attempts to show is that being a supporter of preclearance means actually enforcing the agreement we made in 2008, and exploring potential United States’ breaches of it. It is difficult to imagine Irish parliamentarians not supporting the principle that preclearance only extends to the scope of the 2008 Agreement. Any Irish legislation which implements this principle does not ground any United States entitlement to immediately modify or withdraw from the 2008 Agreement. It would enjoy only its usual right to withdraw after one year. It should, however, be noted that in the event the United States is in material breach of the treaty, Ireland enjoys the right to suspend or withdraw from the 2008 Agreement after a brief period of consultation (as per Article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties).

Is the United States in Breach of the Air Transport Preclearance Agreement 2008?

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