Remarks by Frances Fitzgerald, T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality, at the launch of the British-Irish Visa Scheme
Irish Embassy, London
Monday, 6th October 2014
Home Secretary, Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen,
The obvious good news, today, is that, for the first time, tourists and business visitors will be able to visit the United Kingdom and Ireland on a single visa, issued by either country. A visitor coming to Ireland will be able to travel north/south on the island and east/west to mainland UK without multiple visas.
The less obvious but profoundly significant good news is the transformation in British Irish relations represented by today’s launch. This is an initiative of unprecedented cooperation between our Countries. It would not have seemed possible just a few years back that we would be standing here together saying, ‘Visit our beautiful and historic lands, come and experience the best we can offer’.
China and India will be the first countries to benefit from the British-Irish Visa Scheme – China later this month, followed by India very shortly thereafter. A review in early 2015 should lead to the rollout of the scheme to all countries by the end of next year.
Creating a mini-Schengen zone between Ireland and the UK is a historic breakthrough in developing the Common Travel Area that’s been of immense political, social and economic importance to both countries for nearly a century.
The Home Secretary and I want to strengthen the Common Travel Area. It is good for both countries. It is good for the people of both countries. In this regard today the Home Secretary and I will sign a new agreement. This new agreement is important to underpin the operation of the new Visa scheme. This agreement, for the first time, crafts a governance framework for sharing immigration data – in accordance with our respective laws and data protection obligations.
I also want to mention that the Home Secretary is also taking an initiative that will allow the lifting of transit visas for visitors en-route to Ireland.
It is all a continuum.
At one end, co-operation to protect our border from abuse.
At the other end of the continuum, extending the benefits of borderless travel between our countries.
I want to mention one more example of joint Ireland British cooperation – Ireland sharing the United Kingdom’s worldwide network of Visa Application Centres. 200 of them. They will now provide services to Irish visa applicants such as lodging of applications, courier services, informational services and online payment of visa fees. This is truly significant: both countries working side by side, globally, to offer a simple and easy process for our respective applicants to obtain their single visa.
Now, here’s the reality. We each want to boost tourism and business travel. We in Ireland want to build on the success of the Irish Short-Stay Visa Waiver Programme launched in 2011. Since then short-term visitors to the UK from countries covered under the scheme have been permitted to visit Ireland on a UK visa. As a result, almost 45,000 additional visitors travelled to Ireland last year compared to 2010. We want this number to grow even further.
The British-Irish Visa Scheme is a unique opportunity for tourism promotion bodies on both islands to work together to jointly promote tourism travel to Ireland and the UK – Tourism Ireland and Visit Britain have already drawn up plans to do just that.
Officials in the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service of my Department and their Home Office colleagues have invested much effort and commitment to making this landmark British-Irish Visa Scheme a reality and I commend them for it.
Finally, I thank Ambassador Mulhall for hosting today’s event. I am honoured to be Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality on such a positive occasion.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.