“Mr Varadkar said Ireland and Britain could become a ‘mini-Schengen'”

The Irish Times reports some odd comments by the Irish Government Tourism and Transport Minister, Leo Varadkar, at a meeting of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly at Leinster House in Dublin.  Odd, that is, given what we already know.  From the Irish Times report

Mr Varadkar said tourists and business visitors should not be forced to source one set of travel papers for the UK and a second set for th Republic.

“This means that there are real opportunities to attract more high-value, high-spending visitors from rapidly growing economies like Brazil, India, China and Russia to both Britain and Ireland,” he told the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly at Leinster House in Dublin.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland and Britain could become a “mini-Schengen” referring to the 20 countries in mainland Europe signed up to common travel and visa rules.

In Ireland, a visa waiver for UK visitors has been extended until the end of October 2016. It allows long-haul travellers to pass in to Ireland without additional travel documents.

“While the visa waiver is a step forward, it should be just that – one step of many to come,” he said.

“It makes no sense to me that a tourist flying into Dublin from Dubai needs a separate visa to travel to the Titanic Experience in Belfast and to see the Giant’s Causeway. And it makes even less sense to the tourist.”

Of course, at present and, apparently, until the end of October 2016, those visitors only require a UK visa to travel around this “mini-Schengen”…  Provided they fly to a UK city first.  [Like Belfast? – Ed]  Indeed.

The reports of Mr Varadkar’s comments refer to it as a ‘call for reform’ of the visa rules.

Mr Varadkar made the call at the latest meeting of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly as it sat in Leinster House. His idea has been backed by co-chairman Joe McHugh [TD].

But his Irish Government colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the UK Government to improve the Common Travel Area in December last year.

And, as I’ve mentioned previously here on Slugger, the Irish Justice and Equality Minister has already told the Dáil what that MoU means, and why “persons granted an Irish visa are not permitted to use that visa to travel to the UK”.  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 throughout]

The Irish Government could always ask the UK to capture that necessary data for them…  Just a thought.