Warnings have been raised about the tourist impact of Northern Ireland’s border crossing permit plans


Tourism chiefs warn of plans to introduce a permit scheme for crossing the Northern Ireland border.

Under the plan, all non-British and non-Irish EU citizens would have to apply for travel clearance.

Announced last year as part of the Nationality and Borders Act, Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) is intended to be similar to the system whereby travelers to the United States fill out a form in advance.

Tourism industry leaders testified on the issue before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning.

Joanne Stewart, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, described the Republic of Ireland as the “main gateway” for overseas travelers coming to Northern Ireland.

She said they estimate the proposed scheme could impact half a million visitors and put £160million in visitor spending at risk.

She also warned that this could have an impact on Northern Ireland’s competitiveness when it comes to attracting large business conferences.

Ms Stewart said industry was “looking for information” about the new scheme.

“There has been no consultation at all with industry or with ourselves in relation to the introduction of ETA and the implications for Northern Ireland,” she told MPs.

“We didn’t have an appointment, I asked a series of questions to get clarification, but we really don’t have any information… One of the really worrying things is that it appears to be a single-entry ETA, and given the border , all the ways you can cross it in multiple paths in one journey. If this were just a single entry, this would simply be impractical, totally impractical and could cause a really huge cost to the tourists traveling across the island… people want to travel hassle-free. ”

She said that during the coronavirus pandemic they have seen some operators cancel sections of the Northern Ireland itinerary due to differing testing and paperwork requirements related to the virus.

“We’ve seen the impact this can have if there’s no alignment across the island,” she said.

Shane Clarke, Tourism Ireland’s director for business services, policy and Northern Ireland, agreed that there had been no consultation on the programme.

“There was some disbelief that this was proposed, this is an industry that has been on its knees because of Covid for the last two years and they really cannot believe that this type of regulation is going to be put in place,” he told MPs and warned that potential visitors could be put off.

“They look for good news and not for obstacles and uncertainties thrown in their way…

“By introducing these kinds of additional requirements, not only has the complexity and potential cost been increased, but in relation to the potential visitors, there are many other places close to where they live that they can visit and this becomes a barrier in relation on adding their potential to visit the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

Around one billion euros have been invested since 2002 to market the island as unrestricted and easily accessible.

Immigration Secretary Kevin Foster also testified before the committee.

The committee’s chair, Simon Hoare, said he had received figures on the number of prosecutions for entering the UK illegally via the Irish border, namely just three in 2017, five in 2018, 32 in 2019, two a year 2020, 15 in 2021 and two in 2022 so far.

He asked what the “nut you’re trying to crack” is.

Pointing to similar systems around the world, Mr Foster described the rationale behind the system as improved border security and better customer service

He stressed that pre-travel clearance was not a “onerous” requirement, noting it would likely cost around £10, be valid for more than a year and cover multiple trips.

He also suggested it would become operational in 2025 and said the government had had a “productive conversation” with the Irish government about Ireland’s long-term residents. Warnings have been raised about the tourist impact of Northern Ireland’s border crossing permit plans

Fry Electronics Team

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