Check against delivery.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here today to launch the first ever Irish Visa Waiver Programme as an integral part of the Government’s Jobs Initiative. This Programme, which I initiated in my Department shortly after my appointment, will make it easier for tourist and business visitors to the UK to come to Ireland without the need for an Irish visa. It is designed to give a much needed boost to our tourist industry and to encourage business development. It demonstrates the innovative and imaginative approach of this Government and the public sector to working our way to economic recovery. I think it is also right that, in launching the programme, I acknowledge the cooperation of the British government in its development.
I am, of course, delighted that An Taoiseach and An Tanaiste have joined Minister Leo Varadkar and myself to mark the launch of the Programme. Their presence here this morning signifies in a potent way the importance this government attaches to finding innovative ways to help our tourist industry and to develop our economy. I also want to specially welcome all of you in the audience here – whether you are a provider of tourism services or whether you work to support our tourism industry.
This week, I signed into law the Statutory Instrument which will give effect to the Programme at its start date tomorrow, 1st July. As of tomorrow, nationals of 16 specified countries can travel to Ireland from the UK without the need for an Irish visa. The Programme will run as a pilot up to the end of October 2012 but may be added to or amended at any point depending on our experience of the pilot.
This Programme is a major breakthrough and I know that tourist industry interests also see it as such. It is also of considerable importance that it will facilitate those visiting Britain, who are interested in business development, to include this State in their itinerary. For the tourist industry this measure represents real practical assistance at a time when it is clearly needed.
I am also pleased to announce today that nationals of the 16 countries involved in the Programme, who are long term legal residents in the UK, will have the cost of a visa to Ireland waived as part of this scheme. There are very substantial numbers of people in this category in the UK – some estimates suggest that it is a million plus. This further announcement will, I believe, open up further opportunities for our tourism industry. These potential visitors – who may never have considered coming here for a break – will now be able to come here with relative ease with no add-on visa fee.
This concession is, I believe, a further significant development of practical assistance and I know you will use it as a further opportunity to generate additional badly needed tourism activity. Like the Waiver Programme, this measure also comes into force tomorrow.
Today's launch marks, in many ways, a significant shift in the way policy and public services are developed in this country. Put at it’s simplest, it is joined-up Government in action. The main players came together in an open dialogue where there was a shared acceptance that things needed to change to help one of our major employers up off its knees. The Visa Waiver Programme, as well as the waiving of the visa charge for long-term UK residents, is a real and tangible outcome of this process of engagement, facilitated and led by my Department.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Garda National Immigration Bureau for their help and cooperation in developing this Programme. Officers of the Bureau, in their capacity as Immigration Officers, will be, of course, on the "front line" in ensuring that the Programme runs smoothly as they are responsible for clearing visitors to enter the State at airports and other points of entry. The Bureau has also been a valuable liaison with air and other carriers.
I am also grateful for the cooperation shown by the UK authorities. My Department works very closely with the UK Border Agency on all aspects of immigration and border control. This initiative is, I hope, just the first step to even greater cooperation within the context of the Common Travel Area. In this respect, my officials have had preliminary discussions with their UK counterparts to explore the feasibility of introducing reciprocal arrangements. I have also personally been supported in this initiative by my colleague, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, with whom I first discussed it on the margins of the first European Council meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers that I attended in Luxembourg.
In conclusion, the task for you all now is to do your utmost in getting the message out to the target countries; I urge you to keep at it and wish you every success.
30 June, 2011