Dispute over text hobbled tourism pact

 

THE idea of closer co operation between the Northern and Southern tourist boards won the approval of the Stormont cabinet in the wake of the O'Neill Lemass meeting in 1965, but faced insuperable difficulties over the production of maps and literature acceptable to both governments.

The issue of closer co operation on tourism was first discussed by the Northern Ireland cabinet at its meeting on January 20th 1965. The Minister for Commerce, Brian Faulkner said he agreed with the Northern Tourist Board's recommendations, which it had been pressing on him. He had not so far acted in the matter because of a previous cabinet decision of 1960 opposing co operative ventures. However, the possibility of tourism co operation had been mentioned by Capt O'Neill and Sean Lemass after their meeting on January 14th 1965 and on the following day he had made arrangements to meet Mr Erskine Childers, the Irish Minister for Transport and Power.

The Minister added that voluntary bodies were already engaging in limited co operation to publicise the amenities of Border areas. Bord Failte was understood to be anxious to secure co operation in promoting the entire island of Ireland as a tourist area. This could be of considerable advantage to Northern Ireland, especially in the long term. In Britain, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Failte at present conducted separate publicity operations. Elsewhere, as in the United States, Northern Ireland tourist promotion was handled by British travel and holidays associations, but Northern Ireland inevitably became submerged in the wider UK effort.

If foreigners were interested in "Ireland" they tended to look to Bord Failte. It might be that Mr Childers and the Irish tourist board would make unacceptable proposals and that difficulties might arise over such questions as the separate designation of Northern Ireland in tourist maps. At least, however, the Northern Ireland government should show itself willing to consider a course favoured by the British government.

The prime minister, Capt O'Neill, said it would be advantageous to promote easy movement of tourist traffic throughout the British Isles. The American tourist was likely to regard the Border as an irritating obstacle to travel. He fully agreed, therefore, that exploratory talks were desirable, though the balance of advantage would have to be kept clearly in mind at every stage.

For his part, the Minister for Finance, Mr H.V. Kirk, asked whether it would be wise to surrender control over publicity material. But Mr Faulkner replied that this was one aspect which would have to be safeguarded by a proper agreement. It was his impression. however, that the Dublin authorities were prepared to go a long way to meet the Northern Ireland point of view.

After further discussion it was agreed that the Minister for Commerce should explore with Mr Childers the possibilities of cooperation in tourist publicity and in electricity generation and distribution, without commitment at this stage.

Following these discussions, the Minister for Commerce reported to a further cabinet meeting on 1st April 1965 that the proposed North South joint committee would help to attract more tourists from the South as there was considerable scope for expansion. However, he wished to make it clear that all joint literature would contain suitable wording to indicated the separate constitutional status of Northern Ireland, while maps would show the Border. The prime minister suggested that the cabinet might wish to see the suggested literature before its release. A public announcement on tourist co operation would assuredly be well received by the tourist board and local tourist trade. Its reception in other quarters might be rather less warm.

Problems began to emerge in the cross Border discussions, however, as Mr Faulkner reported to the cabinet on August 11th 1965. He recalled that the cabinet had agreed that any map of Ireland included in joint literature must make the North's position clear, both pictorially and textually. Discussions had been proceeding with the Dublin department, but great difficulty had been encountered. The Dublin authorities had suggested a number of variations which were wholly unacceptable, as implying some degree of impermanence in Northern Ireland's constitutional position. His ministry had now proposed "Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom" but the South had yet to agree.

It was intended that the map should be headed "Ireland"; that the Border should be clearly shown; that the six counties should be labelled Northern Ireland" and that the territory of the Republic should not be labelled. These aspects were satisfactory, but the text of the caption was another matter. In no circumstances could there by any ambiguity about this and if the cooperative venture were to break down on this point, the onus would clearly lie upon the Republic for attempting to impose its political outlook.

The minister added that he would keep the cabinet informed on the matter.