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Remarks at a Press Briefing with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Irish Minister for Transportation Noel Dempsey on Aviation Preclearance Agreement

Release Date: November 17, 2008

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact 202-282-8010
Washington, D.C.

Secretary Chertoff: Well, I’d like to welcome Noel Dempsey, the Irish Minister for Transport here to the United States on the occasion of our signing the Irish Preclearance Agreement. This is the result of about a year of hard work. We met about a year ago in Ireland and discussed the possibility of creating this broad preclearance agreement which affects both Shannon and Dublin and I think it’s emblematic of the longstanding and very deep ties between our countries, ties that extend to tourism, to travel, and to trade, and so we’re delighted to be able to have this very special agreement with the Government and the people of the Republic of Ireland.

This is really part of a larger bilateral partnership which we’ve had with the Irish Republic for a long period of time, which I think will deepen and continue because of this. I want to particularly thank the Government of Ireland for the support provided to our Customs and Border Protection officers who are conducting preinspections already at a commercial -- on commercial aircraft at both Dublin and Shannon, and let me explain the benefit of this.

Once we’ve actually expanded the footprint in Shannon, we’ll have the capability to conduct preclearance, both on immigration and customs, for commercial aviation and for general aviation and that’s going to mean that we’ll be able to conduct screening both with respect to people and with respect to things, including radiation and nuclear screening and agricultural screening in Ireland for aircraft that are bound for the United States. That’s going to be of benefit to the United States from an efficiency standpoint, from a security standpoint, and it’s going to be for passengers because it will mean that flights can then go on to their destination anywhere in the United States, having already cleared customs and immigration, which will broaden the number of airports which can receive direct flights coming from Ireland.

Obviously there’s some work to be done in implementation. We have to get our standard operating procedures in order. There will be some additional construction work. I’m sure that will be good news for people locally, and I can say that the officials from Shannon International Airport and our Customs and Border Protection officials have already identified the location for additional construction work and have been able to outline what the design requirements and standards will be. So I anticipate the actual construction and groundbreaking will occur in the near future.

Again, Noel, Mr. Minister, I want to thank you for your personal involvement in this and that of the whole Government and we look forward to continuing to work to deepen this terrific relationship that we have.

Mr. Dempsey: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a genuine pleasure for me to be here today on behalf of the Irish Government to sign what is a major intergovernmental agreement with the United States and Ireland on preclearance at two of our Irish airports, and it was my pleasure earlier to sign that agreement with Secretary Chertoff, and if I could, I just want to on a personal basis say a very special word of thanks to you, Secretary, for the interest and the personal role that you took in this as well. It’s just a little bit over a year ago since -- or a little bit less than a year ago since we met and put this in [inaudible] and you and your team since then have engaged very, very strongly in this process and have made a huge effort and I know from talking to the members of the Irish negotiating team that you were at all times interested and pushing for the agreement.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as any great surprise to anyone that we’ve signed this agreement because of the very close relationship that exists between Ireland the U.S. We’ve a particularly strong history of positive engagement with the United States in relation to aviation matters, going right back to the early days of aviation.

In 1986, we -- the Irish and U.S. Governments signed the Air Navigation and Transport Agreement and that gave us the preinspection, as we call it, for U.S.-bound passengers from Shannon and Dublin Airports in Ireland. It allowed passengers from Ireland to clear immigration preinspection at those airports and that’s been hugely important for Ireland, enormously beneficial to the Irish and indeed to U.S. visitors to Ireland as well and that’s made the very often stressful business of international and transatlantic travel that bit easier for passengers and airlines, and today we take a step forward with this particular agreement, the only one of its kind concluded with the -- concluded by U.S. authorities with the European country.

It will allow for a full and introduction, full preclearance for passengers, as the Secretary has stated, on scheduled and chartered commercial airline flights to and from the U.S. from Shannon and Dublin as well as allowing for preclearance of the private aircraft to the U.S. from Shannon Airport. For this -- for us, it presents Shannon and Dublin Airports with a unique opportunity to promote their transatlantic facilities to airlines and to passengers, not just in Ireland but I think around Europe as well, which means that we have the potential to become a major hub for European travel and for airlines from Europe.

The new preclearance agreement, I think, is a natural next step for both governments and I’m sure that it will be an equal success to that of its predecessor. Already, we’ve had some indications of that. British Airways has announced that in considering its business class-only service from London City Airport to U.S. with a stopover at Shannon precisely for the purpose of taking advantage of the preclearance services that are there once they’re operational and I’m confident that many other airlines will see the benefits into the future.

The potential of Ireland to grow transatlantic services from the airports is now very, very significant and positive for us and obviously in the current economic climate that is again hugely important, more important probably than ever for Ireland itself, and, Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you again. Personally, I want to thank your team, all of the people involved in that, to acknowledge the very positive way that you’ve engaged with this, and we’re very proud of our links with the United States and I’m certain that we’ll have many opportunities in the future to bring mutually beneficial agreements such as this into the future, and again thank you very much.

Secretary Chertoff: And with that, we’ll be happy to take some questions. If you direct the object of your question, we’ll try to answer them.

Question: Can you explain how this will increase the number of airports that can receive direct flights from the two airports in Ireland?

Secretary Chertoff: Basically, the concept is that when you conclude preclearance for commercial and for private aircraft in Shannon or Dublin, there’s no longer any need to restrict yourself to landing in the United States at an airport that has immigration and customs facilities. So it will be as if, once you’ve cleared preclearance, as if you were leaving from a domestic airport to another airport and that’s going to be a great addition in terms of flexibility.

Question: Do you have a time frame for when you think this will actually begin?

Secretary Chertoff: Well, we talked about that a little bit earlier. Noel?

Mr. Dempsey: Basically, from Shannon Airport, there’s some building works that have to take place, but we would expect that then to be in place by June of 2009. There are standard operating procedures which have to be agreed between both parties as well, but we would expect to be able to start operations from Shannon in 2009, in June 2009, and Dublin around about April-May 2010.

Question: Mr. Secretary, on a little bit of a different subject, can you talk about the -- the trend that the DNI has identified of Western-looking people being trained to come into the United States, terrorists from Europe, and whether these prescreening agreements address that?

Secretary Chertoff: Well, first, let me say we’ve talked for about a year or more perhaps about the strategic challenge that is posed by areas in South Asia and other parts of the world where al-Qaeda consciously recruits people who they believe can blend in to Western culture as operatives and we’ve taken a comprehensive approach to this issue. A large part of that, of course, is our new electronic system of travel authorization, our ability to use some of the commercial airline data which we’ve had pursuant to an agreement with Europe for a couple of years. All of this makes it easy for us to detect connections and links that would suggest a terrorist is coming in.

In terms of preclearance that’s helpful from a security standpoint because it means, and this is particularly true of private aircraft, that we’ll be able to do the vetting of people who are coming in overseas before they come into our airspace. We’ll be able to check cargo and be able to check things that might be brought in on private aircraft before it comes into our airspace and that’s another building block in a series of security measures that we have as part of our response to this threat.

As you know, today I’m also going to be talking a little later about our E-APIS Regulation which has just been issued. That’s going to require advance notification an hour before departure from private aircraft of the crew and the passengers who are coming into the United States. That will synchronize our security with private aircraft to the same level that we have with commercial aircraft and that will begin to plug a major loophole that we saw in our security in terms of international travel.

So what we’re beginning to see is the coalescing of a number of security measures designed to make it more difficult, much more difficult for terrorists to come in or to bring dangerous things in and all these things are coming to fruition over this last six months or so.

Question: One last. I know you’re not long for your position, but do you see this sort of agreement being done with other countries potentially to have preclearance elsewhere?

Secretary Chertoff: Well, bear in mind right now, obviously there are people coming in from the Pacific and one of the things we’re looking at is the possibility of Anchorage as a location for people to stop and preclear before they come into the U.S. It may be that over time, we do some preclearances at some of the fixed base operators overseas, the ones that handle a lot of private traffic, so we can create another alternative for private aircraft to be checked before they come in.

Question: I guess I meant for commercial air traffic.

Secretary Chertoff: I don’t know if there’s anything in the works right now. I can’t exclude the possibility, but obviously Ireland is well situated because of its location as a traffic route. Now, we have done -- in the Caribbean, we’ve done a preclearance agreement with Aruba, so we are dealing with the issue of people coming from the Southern Hemisphere, and we are talking to a couple of other countries in the Caribbean that could be also location for preclearance.

Question: Mr. Secretary, excuse me if you’ve answered this already, but on a related question to the Visa Waiver Program. When you expand the Visa Waiver Program, you attach this other agreement with regard to data-sharing and criminal data-sharing.

Secretary Chertoff: Right.

Question: When the other, the existing ones, like for example the Irish, come up for review, will they -- will the renewal be conditional on a similar arrangement?

Secretary Chertoff: Yes.

Moderator: We have time for two more questions.

Secretary Chertoff: That’s our -- that’s part of our requirement, yes.

Question: This is basically the agreement you have with Ireland now is identical to what you have with Canada?

Secretary Chertoff: Yes, very similar.

Moderator: Anything else? Thank you very much.

Secretary Chertoff: All right. Thanks very much.

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This page was last reviewed/modified on November 17, 2008.