“At present persons granted an Irish visa are not permitted to use that visa to travel to the UK.”

Not that we didn’t already know that…  However, the Northern Ireland Tourism Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, fielded a number of NI Assembly questions back in Feb/March on the issue of the Irish Government’s “Visa Waiver Scheme for nationals of 16 countries who hold a valid visa for entry into the United Kingdom.”

Here is one of her answers

I discussed this issue with Hugo Swire, NIO Minister of State last month.

The Republic of Ireland, ROI, introduced a visa waiver programme, operating for nationals of 16 countries for a trial period from July 2011 to October 2012, in order to seek to attract visitors to Ireland who hold a valid visa for entry into the UK. Under the programme, nationals of those countries arriving in the UK with a valid UK visa are able to enter the RoI without any further documentation. However, if they enter the RoI on an Irish visa they cannot then enter UK. They cannot therefore visit NI.

I have raised the issue of a reciprocal visa waiver scheme for those entering NI with a valid Irish visa. I understand there are security and resource implications which currently prevent the introduction of such a scheme. I will continue to raise this issue with both Governments.

As the Londonderry Sentinel reported at the start of April

TOURISTS from 16 Asian, Balkan and Middle Eastern countries holidaying in the Republic of Ireland on valid Irish visas will not be allowed into UK City of Culture 2013 unless they apply for a separate UK visa.

Tourist Minister Arlene Foster revealed holidaymakers from a range of countries with valid Irish visas are not allowed into Londonderry due to “security” and resource” considerations. Tourists from the same 16 countries holidaying here on UK visas are now allowed to travel to Donegal.

But tourists from two of the most populous countries in the world – China and India – will not be allowed to pay a flying visit to Londonderry even if they are visiting Buncrana as valid Irish visa holders.

Tourists from the Russian Federation, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Belarus, Montenegro, Serbia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will also need to apply for separate UK and Irish visas if they want to cross the border.

Let’s hope the NI First and deputy First Ministers clarified that issue on their recent jaunt to three of those countries[We wouldn’t want a diplomatic incident in the UK City of Culture – Ed]  Indeed.

And given that the NI Tourism Minister has been “[raising] this issue with both Governments” here’s another snippet of information that might have been included in her answers.  From Dáil Written Answers 18 April

[Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter)]  At present persons granted an Irish visa are not permitted to use that visa to travel to the UK. This is primarily due to the UK requirement that all visa applicants supply fingerprint (biometrics) data electronically as an essential element of applying for a UK visa. Quite obviously Ireland does not have the capacity to capture such data for all visa applications worldwide; currently for UK visas this is done in over 150 countries.

However, I can inform the Deputy that in December 2011, together with the UK’s Immigration Minister, I signed an agreement which, among other things, commits both countries to developing a Common Travel Area visa. Such a visa would allow tourists and business visitors to travel to the Common Travel Area and to travel freely between Ireland and the UK. It is anticipated that such a visa will prove an attractive option for tourists and business visitors and it is intended to conduct a trial scheme which will be used to gauge likely demand and to resolve the substantial practical issues around its introduction. [added emphasis]

We never did have that reasoned debate about Schengen…

Adds  That agreement would appear to be the memorandum of understanding referred to here.