It's Ireland of the welcomes at last for backpackers sent home by customs


THEY WERE ignominiously refused entry to Ireland more than a week ago, but yesterday a welcoming party was on hand when the three backpackers from Plano, Texas, successfully made their way through immigration control.

The men were denied entry by immigration officials at Dublin Airport on July 3rd, because they did not have printed bank statements or an accommodation address. They had planned to stay with people they had contacted through a couch-surfing website.

Colin Zwirko, Ben Whitehurst, (both 21) and Gavin Sides (19) had given up their jobs to plan their trip around the world, but they found themselves on the next flight to New York with their one-way tickets used up.

Their predicament reached the ears of the Dallas Morning News and then the Irish media. The D4 Hotels group then offered to fly the trio back to Ireland, give them one week’s accommodation, food and drink, at the Ballsbridge Towers hotel and €1,000 spending money.

They arrived at Dublin airport yesterday morning. “When we landed, there was a common feeling of nervousness, I guess,” Colin Zwirko said.

However, their passage through immigration control was very easy. “We brought over our bank statements. We brought all the documentation needed. I think we got through it easier because of the circumstances.”

D4 Hotels had a car waiting for them to take them to Ballsbridge where a throng of cameras awaited them. By 11.30am they had enjoyed their first pint of Guinness in Ireland and had posed in the lashing rain for photographers.

Gavin Sides said they were really discouraged by the incident initially but they were relieved that their trip was back on track.

Asked what they would do in Ireland, he said: “Just seeing the sights. We left Texas because it’s somewhere we’ve been for a while and we needed to see something new.”

They are planning to spend the following months travelling the world, starting with Europe. “We’re kind of winging it. We’ve got no plans on it so far,” said Mr Sides.

“We do have a return flight though this time,” noted Mr Zwirko. He said they had been determined to return here after the first incident. “I guess right at first we were pretty depressed about it all but then we got to work on trying to figure out how to get back.”

Ben Whitehurst said everyone they’d met in Ireland had been “really nice” so far. “Free Guinness is always a plus. It does taste much better here than it does back in the States,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week. Dingle Peninsula is one of the things I want to see.”

They are also planning to visit Killarney and Co Cork.

Asked if getting turned away at the airport was the best thing to happen to them, Mr Zwirko said: “Somehow through all of it, it’s worked out. We never thought it would.”

The all-island tourism body Tourism Ireland had written to the Garda National Immigration Bureau and the Department of Justice expressing concern at the incident.

Yesterday a spokeswoman said Tourism Ireland has received a prompt response from the relevant immigration authorities. “We will be following up with them to see how we can work more closely together to avoid situations of this nature in the future,” she said. “We feel it is important to maintain a sense of proportion on the matter, given that more than 20 million people travel through Dublin airport each year.”