Editorial: Electronic Travel Authorisation will put tourism at risk

When plans to require overseas visitors to the Republic to apply for paid clearance to cross the border were first discussed, they were described as "daft and potentially dangerous".

Now that further details have been published, it is simply incomprehensible that the British government has not listened to the many voices warning of the potentially devastating impact on tourism.

The Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme will mean non-British or non-Irish citizens without a visa will need a permit to cross the border into Northern Ireland, as part of legislation to toughen controls on who enters the UK.

The House of Lords last year supported an amendment by former SDLP leader Baroness Ritchie to exempt the region from the rules, with those speaking out including former Secretary of State Lord Murphy.

The government did confirm this week that a requirement for non-Irish residents in the Republic to have an ETA was being scrapped.

This means that thousands of people from countries such as Poland who cross the border regularly as part of their daily lives will be exempt.

However, no such exemption for tourists has been granted, despite repeated warnings from politicians and tourism bodies about the potential implications for the industry.

The Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance said this week that with 70 per cent of visitors to the north arriving via Dublin, the extra cost and hassle of obtaining an ETA could put a quarter of all tourism spend at risk.

It is feared some travel agents and tour operators could cut Northern Ireland from their itineraries entirely.

If the region is not to be exempted from the scheme, an obvious change would be to allow a waiver period, perhaps no more than a week, for international visitors to the island.

This would recognise that unique challenges of the UK's only land border as well as the fact that Ireland is often marketed abroad as a single destination.

It would allow cross-border day trips or short stays to continue unhindered and protect a vital part of the Northern Ireland economy.

At a time when enormous political capital has been expended on maintaining a free-flowing border for post-Brexit trade, it is baffling that the government could be so tin-eared to the concerns of the hospitality and tourist sector in this case.

It is vital that the issue is on the agenda for the next meeting of British and Irish ministers so that a pragmatic solution can be agreed.